Thursday, November 29, 2012
- Organized my to-do list and processed a bunch of emails at home before breakfast.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry matters.
- Processed more emails (they tend to accumulate unduly while I'm travelling).
- The eight bishops who face disciplinary proceedings for filing a friend-of-the-court brief in some property litigation in Texas (I am one of them) only yesterday, after nearly six months, received copies of the actual complaints. One of them is 23 pages of legalese. I took some time to give it a careful look and trade some emails with my fellow amici.
- Stopped by an urgent care clinic to get a splinter removed from the tip of my right forefinger. It's been fully embedded, and driving me increasingly crazier, for more than a week now, so it was time to get it taken care of. As a bonus, I walked out with a fresh tetanus shot, but passed on the offer of a lollipop.
- Lunch from McDonald's, eaten at home.
- Ran some errands from the day off I didn't have this week.
- Produced a working script for this Sunday's sermon, to be delivered at St Paul's, Pekin.
- Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House over some important but non-urgent concerns.
- Evening Prayer in my car (I was already out of the office and found the cathedral being used for something).
- After dinner at home, back to the cathedral for the regular November chapter meeting.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
We concluded our meeting of the Bishops of Small Dioceses around 11:30am. I came away with some helpful ideas, but also contributed, giving bits and pieces of what has become my parish hall stump speech in the diocese regarding the secularization of society. And apart from any of the specific content, the chance to just spend time with peers is invaluable. Time invested in relationship building will pay dividends in unexpected ways.
The Bishops of Wyoming and Nevada rode with me to the airport in my rental car, and I hung out with them for a bit as we waited for our flights. The connection in Dallas was tight, but I made it, and was walking back into the house to an enthusiastic canine welcome a little past 9.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Still attending the conference for bishops of small dioceses. Nothing momentous, and we represent widely varying perspectives, but we are are all trying to fiathfully engage the challenges of church leadership in a rapdily and profoundly changing environment.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Up and out in time to catch a 7am flight from Springfield to Dallas, then a connection to Salt Lake City, where I attending a meeting of bishops from small dioceses (there are no formal criteria for such a designation, so it's a self-selected group). I'll be here until midday on Wednesday.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Another welcome opportunity to approach Sunday morning at a humane hour and a humane pace. Presided and preached for the 10:15 liturgy at Christ the King, Normal. Wonderful hospitality from Fr Desmond Francis and the people of that Eucharistic Community. Home around 3pm, in time to relax a bit and take a vigorous walk, followed by some leaf processing in the yard just as it was getting dark.
Christ the King, Normal--Revelation 1:4b-8, Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
When I was growing up in the Chicago suburbs during the ’50s and ‘60s, there was a weekday afternoon children’s TV show called Garfield Goose & Friends. Garfield Goose was styled “King of the United States,” and Frazier Thomas, the program’s human host, was his Prime Minister. Of course, the reason they could get away with such a concept was because the whole notion of a “king of the United States” is utterly ridiculous. Americans fought a war in the 1770s to get rid of a king, and then set up a constitution that makes it pretty darn difficult to create a monarchy in this country. Now, that doesn’t stop us from being consumed by interest in royalty from other countries, especially the descendants of the one we got rid of in 1776! But we like to watch them at a safe distance, across the ocean, where they clearly don’t rule over us.
Still, regard for monarchy is in our DNA, not only as Americans, but simply as human beings, and particularly as Christians. The world in which Christian religion came to life was completely overshadowed by kings and queens and princes and emperors. Everybody had a sovereign, everybody had a lord. And most of the lords had lords, and most of the lords of the lords had lords, and on up the chain, until you got to the one who was a true monarch, either divine in himself, as some of the Roman emperors thought, or else accountable solely and directly to God, as was the case with the Christian monarchs of medieval Europe. That was the way the political fabric of society was organized; that was the way it held together, and while particular kings or princes had to fight off rebellions from time to time, nobody really questioned the underlying system itself.
The feast we celebrate today—the feast of Christ the King—is a sign of our inescapable connection to monarchy. In the first chapter of the Revelation to St John, we are greeted by “him who is, and who was, and who is to come, “ and by “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” And in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, we meet “one like a man coming with the clouds from heaven,” whom Christians cannot help but see as a prefigurement of Christ, to whom is “given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” All the poetic imagery in Holy Scripture that is associated with the consummation of our hope and joy as Christians is expressed in the language of monarchy and kingship. We Americans, we who are so averse to having a king, just have to suck it up on a day like this, and realize that the universe is not a democracy; it has a King!
The earliest Christian creed is an acknowledgement of this very fact. In the original Greek, it’s just two words long: Kyrios Iesus. In English, it takes three words: Jesus is Lord, which is another way of saying “Christ is King.” Jesus is Lord. That sort of language rolls off our lips pretty easily because we’re so heavily conditioned by the language of scripture and the language of liturgy. We usually don’t give it a second thought. Besides, our own experience as modern Americans leads us to compartmentalize such expressions in a box—a relatively safe and compact box—on which we slap the label “religion.” Although we would never think of it this way, proclaiming Jesus as Lord, Christ as King, is in the same category as proclaiming Garfield Goose as King of the United States—it sounds good, but there’s no context in which we can know what it actually means.
But if we can try and put ourselves in the position of our Christian brothers and sisters from the first, second, and third centuries—Christians who lived under the long and dark shadow of the Roman Empire—we will see that “Jesus is Lord” is as politically charged a statement as any campaign slogan from the recent election season. It is politically charged because it is, at its core, completely subversive. In the context of the Roman Empire, to say that “Jesus is Lord” is, by implication, to say that Caesar is not Lord. To say that Christ is King is to say that the Emperor is no true king, no true monarch, and to say that is the very definition of sedition, and anyone who makes such a statement is, by definition, a rebel. Is it any wonder why Christians in the first three centuries were systematically persecuted?
Again, it may appear difficult for us to wrap our minds around this as anything important, let alone controversial or rebellious, because there’s nothing or no one in our experience that obviously corresponds directly to what Caesar represented for the subjects of the Roman Empire. But if we dig around a little bit, I think we’ll find that Caesar is alive and well in our world; he just wears disguises and gets called by different names. To a Roman subject, Caesar represented that which is of supreme worth. What do we—we modern democratic Americans—consider to be of supreme worth?
Is it health, or beauty, or youth? The advertising and retail industries would have us believe this. So to say that Jesus is Lord is an act of rebellion against the powers that want us to define ourselves by the way we look or the way we feel.
Is it wealth, or a home that others find impressive, or a car that others envy? Those are certainly the standards by which many of our neighbors judge themselves, so for us to say the Christ is King is to challenge them and undermine their whole understanding of their place in the world. It’s an act of rebellion.
Is Caesar perhaps a political philosophy? Republican, Democrat, or Green? Liberal, Conservative, or Libertarian? Given the amount of money that was spent, and the relationships that were strained, during the last election cycle, it seems evident that this is where many among us place ultimate worth. So for us to say that Jesus is Lord is an act of rebellion against the forces that would define us politically or demographically.
Do some of us perhaps see our country, or democracy itself, as being of ultimate worth? If we do, we need to watch our language, lest we make liars out of ourselves, because we cannot simultaneously say that America is our highest loyalty and that Christ is King.
If Christ is King, then he is the King of all kings. If Jesus is Lord, then he is Lord of all. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not, whoever Caesar may be. If Jesus is Lord, then you and I find our identity not as young or healthy or beautiful or affluent or liberal or conservative or American, but as part of the community of those who follow the one who “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father,” the one to whom we give glory and dominion for ever.
Jesus is Lord. Christ is King. Let us adore him. Amen.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
- On the road from Effingham at 7:30. Drove two hours through the fog on two lane roads. Dropped Brenda off at home and headed into the office.
- Took care of some administrative odds and ends until my 10am appointment with Fr Ralph McMichael. He has developed some catechetical materials regarding the Eucharist (not just the liturgy per se, but how what we do and say in the liturgy connects with our lives as "eucharistic communities") that has great potential in the outworking of our vision for a church that can thrive in a post-Christian secular culture. We talked for two hours.
- Lunch at home.
- Worked on producing a rough draft of my homily for Advent Sunday (December 2, at St Paul's, Pekin).
- Processed a ton of emails.
- Usual weekly desk-clearing chores.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Off in the morning for Thanksgiving with extended family at my sister's home in the Chicago suburbs. We plan to return home on Saturday.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon and Treasurer over sundry matters.
- Attended to some Nashotah House-related business.
- Produced a refined draft of my homily for this Sunday (at Christ the King, Normal).
- Processed a batch of emails.
- Drove home to retrieve Brenda, pack, and load the car to the 3.75 drive to St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel and the ordination of Ann Tofani.
- Spending the night in Effingham.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
- A rare and welcome "late morning", as my visitation was at All Saints, Morton, only and 80 minute drive, and with an 11am liturgy. Got to read the Sunday paper with breakfast.
- Celebrated, preached, and pot-lucked with All Saints, which is in the capable pastoral hands of Fr Brian Kellington. (Deacon Laurie, his wife, was still in Kansas in the wake of her father's death earlier this week.)
- Made the short journey over to Bloomington, where I was privileged to serve as presider and homilist at the closing Mass for the Happening weekend (renewal program for high school youth), held at St Matthew's. It was a spirited group.
- Home for a brief bit, then to the Round House for a 7pm meeting with the cathedral chapter, taking the next step in the process that will lead to the appointment of a Provost who will take the reins when Dean Brodie retires in February.
All Saints, Morton--Mark 13:1-8, Hebrews 10:11-25
Although the objective definition of a “Christian” is “one who has been baptized,” in practical terms, we presume that a Christian is, or at least wants to be and tries to be a disciple of Jesus, a follower of the “Christ.” Unfortunately, you and I carry around some cultural baggage that makes it difficult for us to wrap our minds around that concept. Quite apart from being a disciple of Jesus, being a disciple of anybody is, for us, a strange and foreign idea. It’s not something we can readily identify with. We are accustomed to programs and processes and procedures, but discipleship is about a person. It isn’t registering for a course and reading a certain list of books or watching a series of videos or passing tests or writing papers. Discipleship is a personal relationship, a relationship in which the disciple, more than anything else, spends time with a Master, listening and learning. Yes, there is eventually an attempt to emulate the Master to the point of achieving a certain level of proficiency. But this grows naturally and organically out of the personal relationship between Master and Disciple. For us, living as Christians is about following Jesus as much as it was for those who followed him bodily around Galilee and Judea. The life of the Church—yes, all the programs and processes and procedures—the life of the Church is meant to enable and facilitate the practice of faithful discipleship, and is really impoverished and ineffective if it fails in that mission.
The problem is, sometimes it’s difficult for disciples to discern the true voice of their Master. There are competing voices in our environments that claim to be the voice of Jesus. They don’t all say the same thing. In fact, very often they say contradictory things. “Listen to me,” they say. “I speak for Jesus,” or “My voice is the voice of Jesus.” What’s a faithful disciple to do? It’s easy to be deceived. How are we supposed to know what voices to listen to and which ones to ignore?
If you’ve paid a little bit of attention to the gospel readings on Sundays for the last several weeks, you’re aware that we’ve been on a journey, a road trip, with Jesus as he makes his way from his home area of Galilee—actually, from Caesarea Philippi, another 50 miles or so north of there—slowly south to Jerusalem, and we know what happens in Jerusalem. Two weeks ago, we met him in Jericho, just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem, with blind Bartimaeus. Last week, he was in the courts of the Temple, commenting on the offering made by the poor widow. We continue with the story today, presumably shortly after the incident with the widow. One of the disciples remarks to Jesus on the grandeur of the temple. Not quite three years ago, I was on that spot, and I saw the remaining foundation stones of the temple that make up the western wall. They are massive! In its day, it would have truly been an impressive sight. But instead of just politely agreeing, Jesus makes an astonishing response: “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” Gulp! Not only was it mind-blowing to think of the Temple being destroyed because it was so huge and complex, but, more than that, because it was the Temple—the very seat and symbol of Jewish national and religious identity. For Jews at that time, it carried all the symbolic weight of the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon all rolled into one. Do you remember how we felt as Americans when those structures were under attack eleven years ago? That’s some indication of how a faithful Jew would have responded to Jesus’ words.
So, after this little exchange in the shadow of the Temple, Jesus and his disciples exit the city through one of the gates on the east wall, cross a dry stream bed called the Kidron Valley, and climb up a hill covered with olive trees—the Mount of Olives. From the mountainside, they can turn and look back toward the west and see the entire Temple complex laid out right in front of them. With that panoramic view, Peter and James and John and Andrew and Jesus pick up their conversation where they’d left off earlier. The disciples are eager to know, “When’s all this going to go down? What clues should we be looking out for? Earthquakes and famines and rebellions and wars, maybe?” And Jesus says, “No, even if all that stuff happens, don’t be fooled. This won’t be the end; just the beginning of the beginning.” And then, the most chilling prediction of all: “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
Interestingly, even today some of the competing voices among which we must discern are still announcing “the end”! And it is indeed challenging for disciples to discern the true voice of the Master, the true voice of Jesus, in the midst of the cacophony. I don’t know about you, but for me, the most troubling part of this whole reading from Mark’s gospel is when Jesus talks about the high risk of being deceived, of being led dangerously astray. Many of us here are old enough to remember Jonestown, where a religious leader deceived a thousand people into committing mass suicide. This is, of course, an extreme example, but we can see the same thing happening in a smaller font size, as it were, all the time. Think of Harold Camping, and all those who were deceived by his prediction that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in May of 2011. We could be easily forgiven for being consumed with fear that we might someday choose wrongly. This is the kind of fear that builds on itself, and can be quite crippling. You’ve probably seen Christians who seem to forever flit from church to church, looking for the perfect one. It doesn’t exist, of course, so they keep on flitting. This is not to say that there are not sometimes good reasons for making a transition within the household of faith. I’ve done that myself, and I suspect many of you have as well. What I’m talking about is the person who is perpetually in a state of transition, lacking the faith to put down roots somewhere and flourish, all for fear of being deceived, fear of making the wrong choice.
The antidote, my friends, to fear of being deceived is quite counter-intuitive: The antidote to deception is to make a commitment, to persistently be a disciple—imitating Jesus, doing the things Jesus has taught us. Disciples know Jesus their true Master, discerning his voice amid the chorus of pretenders, precisely in the exercise of faithful discipleship. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more we act like disciples, the more adept we will become at recognizing his voice, and the more protected we will be against deception.
In particular, faithful discipleship often includes bearing witness to the gospel even in the face of persecution. Every day there is fresh news of Christian being persecuted, sometimes to death, in places like Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria. Christian martyrdom is not only the stuff of ancient history; it’s still going on.
You and I, of course, are not likely to face quite that challenge, but we do live in a culture that is becoming secularized—not just religiously neutral, but actively hostile toward Christianity—at an exponential rate. For us, “persecution” doesn’t mean looking down the barrel of a gun. It means staying awake and following the Master as a faithful disciple, and doing so not just routinely and casually, out of habit, but proactively and intentionally. We’ve all heard, I’m sure, that if you want to boil a frog, you don’t just throw it into a pot of water that’s already boiling, because it will just jump right out. You put it in cold water, the kind it’s used to. Then you keep turning up the heat very slowly. By the time the frog realizes he’s in danger, it’s too late; he’s already cooked. As contemporary disciples of Jesus in North American society, the greatest risk we run is becoming a community of boiled frogs. We are constantly tempted to “go along to get along” in the larger secular society, making a little compromise here and a little compromise there, listening to voices other than that of the Master, allowing ourselves to be slowly and subtly deceived until somebody says, “Here, have some Kool-Aid.”
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has these words for us this morning:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
This particular community gathered at this particular altar is where we receive the formation to be that kind of faithful witness, to be disciples who cannot be deceived.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Absent from this space for several days. Here's the summary:
- Monday and Tuesday: At the Diocese of Central Florida's conference center near Orlando with six other bishops and three rectors from the loose fellowship known as Communion partners. We produced a statement, which you can see here, and made several other plans as well.
- Yesterday morning was spend regrouping at home--weight and treadmill workout, assorted emails. In the afternoon, we headed for Chicago. Had dinner with daughter Summer and her family, then headed to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for a splendid production of Massanet's Werther.
- Today was supposed to be a "play day" in Chicago, but I spend the morning taking my "share in the councils of the church" by way of last-ditch attempts at intervention to forestall the cataclysm of the loss of the Diocese of South Carolina to the Episcopal Church. Brenda and I then enjoyed lunch downtown and a couple of hours at the Chicago Art Institute, which we always love.
- Tomorrow it is out to the suburbs for a cameo appearance at the convention of the Diocese of Chicago, then back home to Springfield.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
St Thomas', Glen Carbon--Mark 12:38-44, I Kings 17:8-16
Some of you who have heard me talk about my spiritual and religious past are aware that I was raised in a devoutly active Christian home, and that I had a conscious awareness of being a Christian from a very early age. I don’t know that anybody would have said this to me in so many words, but I somehow picked up the notion, when I was a child, that there are basically two classes of Christians, two levels of Christian faith.
The first level is what we might cynically call “fire insurance”—that is, if we’re sorry for our sins, and trust that fact that Christ died to save us from their eternal consequences, and invite him into our heart, then, when we die, we’ll go to heaven and not to hell. A Level One Christian goes to church most Sundays and puts a fair amount into the offering plate and says grace before meals and tries to live a generally upright life. But beyond those norms, no excessive commitment is necessary. One can go about life in a pretty much normal way.
Level Two Christians, on the other hand, are those who decide to commit themselves totally to Christ. They promise to seek and follow the will of God in whatever they do. No major decision is made without earnest prayer. When God asks, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?”, a Level Two Christian snaps to attention and says, “Here I am, Lord; send me.” This is total and unreserved commitment, nothing held back, the total surrender of one’s own ambition to the will and purpose of God.
Over the years I was growing up, it felt like there was a constant stream of messages from the pastor, from guest preachers, from visiting missionaries, Sunday School teachers, and youth group leaders that I should consider taking the step into Level Two Christian faith. It was very tempting. It seemed quite the noble and heroic thing to do, and as some of my friends indicated that this was the direction they were leaning, there was some peer pressure as well. But I held back, and I held back for one very good reason: I was afraid that if I told God I was willing to do whatever he wanted me to do, he would say, “OK, get your malaria shots and pack your mosquito netting, because I’m sending you to be a missionary to the people of the African jungle for the rest of your life.” (Back then, I didn’t realize that there was anything in Africa except jungle.)
Well, I didn’t want to be a missionary to Africa—thank-you very much—so I just kept my fire-insurance faith in force, and let others deal with the complications of total commitment. Now, I was not a stupid kid. I was on to something that seemed to make a lot of sense. As far as I could tell, I was getting all the major advantages of being a Christian—Christ was in my life, and looked out for me; I could pray to him whenever I needed anything, and, best of all, when everything was said and done, I would end up in heaven—I could have all the advantages, but without the major disadvantages, like malaria and mosquito netting. All that was required of me was a little bit of faith, and a willingness to go to church and say my prayers, and even those last two things were pretty much optional.
By contrast, if I were to commit myself completely to Christ, I didn’t really stand to gain that much—maybe a little more prestige among Christians here on earth, and a few more perks eventually in heaven—but I exposed myself to a virtually infinite risk of an utterly miserable life. It seemed like a no-brainer. Why take the risk?
In that line of reasoning, I had much in common with an unnamed widow in the Phoenician port city of Zarephath some 900 years before Christ. She was among the poorest of the poor during economic bad times. The Hebrew prophet Elijah walks into town and spies her gathering firewood. It must a be cultural thing, because with what seems like incredible gall to you and me, he strolls up to this woman as says, “Good day, madam. Please get me something to eat.” Only it’s not recorded that he actually said “please.” But she nonetheless manages to take no offense, and simply responds that she has barely a handful of cornmeal and a few drops of oil, which she’s going to use to cook a couple of hush puppies for herself and her son, and then they’re going to both lie down and die.
We might expect, I suppose, that Elijah would immediately feel guilty for even asking, reach into his backpack and pull out a couple of twenties and press them into the widow’s hand. But he doesn’t. It’s like he doesn’t even hear her. “Just go, and make me a couple of corn cakes, and then make some for yourself and your son.” She is, understandably, reluctant to do so. As things stand, she at least has enough food for one more meal. If she complies with Elijah’s request, he’ll get something to eat, but she and her son will just die all that much sooner. Why take the risk?
Indeed, why take the risk? We are, if anything, a risk-averse society. We try to immunize ourselves from as many risks as we can. In the case of smallpox and measles, we vaccinate our children, which means we actually expose them to minute amounts of the diseases we’re trying to protect them from. This stimulates their immune systems to produce antibodies, which protects them from coming down with the disease itself. Why take the risk of getting smallpox or measles when you can become immune? I fear, however, that this is precisely what we do when we hear the invitation to commit ourselves unreservedly to Christ and the gospel of Christ and the people of Christ. We allow just a little bit of the gospel under our skin, but just enough to immunize us, not enough to actually infect us.
The church is full of Christians who are functionally immune to the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why take the risk? Why take the risk of using your last little bit of corn meal and olive oil to show hospitality to a stranger who looks like he’s better off than you are? Why take the risk of total commitment to Christ when you’re going to go to heaven anyway, and in the meantime he might send you to the African jungle? So we immunize ourselves from these risks by coming to church 20 or 30 or 40 Sundays a year, making a pledge that feels significant to us, agreeing to help teach Sunday School while our own children are that age, and maybe even serving a term or two on the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee, since it’s such an honor to be asked. This lukewarm level of involvement serves to protect us from having our lives affected too drastically. None of the neighbors will think we’re fanatics. We’ll be pretty normal.
But that’s just it. In a world like this, why would we want to be normal? In a world where dysfunction and depression and divorce are the norm, why be normal? In a world where exploitation and violence are the norm, why be normal? In a world where cosmic alienation and quiet despair are the norm, why be normal? Among all times and all places of human history, why would we want to be normal here and now? Why would we chose here and now to shield ourselves from the boundless love of the Father, the healing grace of His Son, and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit? It doesn’t make sense, yet we continue to do it.
Jesus goes on to tell us, “I gave everything for you, now I want everything from you. Go and make me a couple of corn cakes.” And we say, “No, Lord, there isn’t enough. I haven’t got anything to give you. Please ask somebody else.” So he does. Our strategy worked. We’re immune.
As the author of I Kings tells us, of course, the widow of Zarephath eventually decides to comply with Elijah’s strange request. She risks everything she has, and is rewarded with more than she could ask for. She surrenders herself, and she gets back her “self” in a way she could not have previously imagined. The more she dips into her supply of corn meal and olive oil, the more there is available to her. By giving away all she has, she receives all she needs, and then some. This is the strange economy of the Kingdom of God.
Many centuries later, in the time of Jesus—in fact, as Jesus and his disciples looked on—there was another widow who must have had the widow of Zarephath as a model, because she, too, gave everything she had. She gave her all. She was totally committed. She placed two coins in the offering box of the temple in Jerusalem. The monetary value of her gift was too small to even be considered paltry—less than two pennies of U.S. currency would be worth today. But the fact that there were two coins involved in this transaction is terribly significant. You see, she could have given only one, and kept the other back for herself. It still would have been half of everything she had, and no one would have begrudged her hanging on to the other coin. But she didn’t. She gave everything. Both coins. She was, in effect, placing her own life in that offering box, and giving it to the Lord. Nothing reserved. Nothing held back. No strings attached.
Jesus, watching from a distance, commends this woman’s action. He holds it up to us as an example to follow. You see, Jesus wants it all. Just as Elijah asked for everything from the widow of Zarephath, so Jesus asks for everything from us. He dares us to cast our faithless caution to the winds. He dares us to refuse to be vaccinated against the gospel, and, rather, to allow ourselves to be infected, possessed, totally surrendered to him and his loving will for us.
Why take the risk? Quite honestly, if you have to ask, I’m not sure I can explain it to you! All I can say is, that’s where life really is. As I grew in my childhood faith, I eventually abandoned the Level One and Level Two model of Christian life. I believe now that Jesus calls each and every one of us to only one level of commitment, and that is total commitment—body, soul, and spirit yielded to God. If we’re Christian at all, we’re either immune to this invitation, or we’re infected with it. Those are the only choices. If we decide to take the risk and accept that invitation, it may mean big changes are in store.
Surrendering to the will of Christ may mean a new job or a new career or a new direction in our educational pursuits. It might mean a rather difficult change in your lifestyle—learning some new habits and unlearning some old ones.Or it might mean staying put, right where we are, doing what we’re already doing, only with a different perspective, new priorities, and a clearer sense of vocation. I can’t tell you what it will look like, but I can guarantee you it will be an adventure! And I can also guarantee you that it’s never too late. If you’re young, and it feels like you have your whole life ahead of you, now is a great time to give your life to Christ. If you’re middle aged, and maybe have a few regrets, there is no better time than the present to turn control of your life over to One who knows the road and knows your heart, and wants nothing more than for you to experience lasting joy. If you’re on in years, and have more memories than ambitions, there is still a wonderful opportunity to overtly acknowledge the One who has been trying to guide you and lead you all along, even if you haven’t realized it. It’s never too late. Won’t you do it? Won’t you accept that invitation? Go ahead. Put both coins in the offering box. Make those corn cakes. Make that total commitment. Do it today. And tell somebody about it—tell me about it. Tell Father Tony about it. We want to pray with you and for you. As we offer the Eucharist, let that act of surrender be the intention of your heart. And as you come forward to receive the sacrament, know that it will contain all the grace you need to act on that intention.
You know, the most critical and risky moment in the life of any human being happens a few seconds after we emerge from our mother’s womb. The umbilical cord, the lifeline through which we are even in that moment still getting oxygen and nutrition, is yet intact. It represents the wonderful security of the last nine months. If a newborn in that moment had the capacity for intelligent reasoning, he or she might well say, “Why take the risk? Let me stay attached!” But we know, of course, that if we are to truly live as human beings, that cord needs to be cut. We need to risk everything, and cut the cord, and begin to breathe. If you are still intentionally holding back a part of your heart and will from God, you are like a newborn who is still breathing through his belly button! It may feel safe and secure, but it’s no way to live. And when you cut the cord and draw into your soul the life-changing breath—literally the Holy Spirit—of God, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. Cut the cord, my beloved in Christ, cut the cord.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Another great day with the clergy and musicians of the diocese. Our conference presenter led us through a liturgy planning "lab"--divided into "smaller church" and "larger church" breakout groups. Then we planned a Eucharist for the celebrate of the lesser feast of St Leo of Rome, which we then executed in the cathedral church. I am so pleased that we had this opportunity for learning and collaboration.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on my visit to Emmanuel, Champaign last night.
- Spent the rest of the morning taking care of several items of administrivua--all important, but none urgent.
- Lunch at home.
- Joined most of the clergy of the diocese during the afternoon and evening for the beginning of our conference for clergy and musicians (who arrive tomorrow evening), the goal of which is generally to help form the minds of those who plan worship to ... think liturgically.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Attended by internet and phone to a pastoral matter.
- Walked to Illinois National Bank to deposit my paycheck. Could have driven? Yes? Why did I walk? Because it's all about racking up steps on my pedometer.
- Conceived and hatched a homily for the feast of Christ the King, at the parish of Christ the King in Normal, on November 25.
- Lunch at home.
- Conferred with Walt Knowles, an old friend from college and priest of the Diocese of Olympia, who is in town to lead our upcoming conference for clergy and musicians.
- Participated in a conference call with other leaders of a Communion Partners event next week in Florida.
- Ground out a rough draft for the above-mentioned sermon.
- Left at 4:00 for Champaign, where I had a dinner engagement with the Rector's Warden of Emmanuel Church and his wife, then a 7pm congregational meeting to discuss transitional issues.
- Home around 9:45.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
- Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Usual Tuesday informal check-in with staff.
- Took a phone call from the Dean of Nashotah House.
- Processed a goodly batch of emails ... and Facebook messages, which some people seem to prefer to email. (I should add, by way of fair warning, that it is several times easier for me to lose track of a Facebook message than an email.)
- Produced and refined a working draft of my homily for this Sunday at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
- Lunch at home.
- Hatched a rough draft of a sermon for Proper 28 (November 18 at All Saints, Morton).
- Finally attended to an administrative/pastoral matter that has been "triaged out" for longer than I am happy about.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
- Due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, it felt like we had a luxurious morning, packing up and checking out of our Marion hotel, enjoying a leisurely breakfast at the Bob Evans next door, and still making it to St Andrew's, Carbondale in plenty of time to preside and preach at their regular 10am Eucharist.
- The liturgy was well-attended, had lots of energy, and was followed by a well-subscribed potluck meal. There is a fine sense of community there, testifying to the solid pastoral leadership of Fr Keith Roderick.
- We made it back home around 3:30, in time to get some rest, scrounge up some dinner, and head out to catch of movie (we saw Looper).
St Andrew's, Carbondale--John 11:32-44, Wisdom 3:1-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, Psalm 24:1-6
So it’s All Saints Day … or, the Sunday following, at any rate. I don’t know precisely where “All Saints” ranks among the most popular names for Episcopal churches, but it’s in the top five, I would bet. Our diocese has only one—way up in Morton, actually our northernmost parish. The word “saint,” of course, means “holy one,” and one of the ways it’s used in the Christian tradition is to refer to all Christians, all those who have been set apart in baptism and thereby made “holy to the Lord,” to borrow a phrase from the Old Testament, regardless of their particular moral character. But the way we’re using the word today, it has a more specific meaning. It singles out a minority of Christians, all of them now having passed out of this world, who are deemed worthy of remembrance by all, people who get churches named after them, and appear in stained glass windows, and have their own days on the calendar. So, how does one get to be on this list? What are the qualities of those who have “Saint” put in front of their names?
The Psalmist gives us a clue when he writes
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
Like I said, a clue. But it’s kind of an intimidating clue! Who of us can hope to meet that qualification? –basically, never done anything wrong and never wanted to! But the fact is, by virtue of our baptism, we are all called to be saints, and not just the generic kind but the special kind, the kind we’re celebrating today. In words that will cross our lips several times during our closing hymn at this liturgy: “…and I mean to be one too!” Nonetheless, it looks impossible and we are understandably discouraged. We are all very much “works in progress,” and sometimes the progress doesn’t seem all that impressive.
When we look at today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Wisdom, it doesn’t appear to offer us any help. The portrait of the “righteous” that the author paints doesn’t seem to have room for most of us in it:
God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
When ore is removed from a gold mine, it has to be refined before it can be of any value. And gold is refined by putting it into a furnace and subjecting it to intense heat, and this separates the impurities from the real thing. We might say that gold “suffers” in the process of being refined, of having its true nature and character revealed, just as the righteousness of the people the passage from Wisdom talks about is revealed as a result of their suffering.
And this invariably confronts us with an uncomfortable realization, which is that there is a disconnect—sometimes a huge disconnect—between the character that is revealed in the suffering of the saints and the character that is revealed in our own suffering. The gap between the two can be quite sobering, and lead quickly to despair: How can we possibly be saved when there is such a gulf between our sinfulness and God’s holiness?
There are generally three common theological responses to this question. One of these responses recognizes—correctly, I would say—that we have no righteousness of our own, that God alone is righteous, God alone is holy. Jesus lived a completely sinless life in thought, word, and deed and then offered himself on the cross, satisfying the just demands of God’s holiness. Christ’s righteousness is then “imputed” to us—that is, we get the credit for the life Jesus lived. We don’t deserve it, but when we respond in faith, God gives us that credit anyway. God overlooks our sins, and sees only the blood of Christ, and applies that righteousness to our account.
Another way of understanding the business of how God saves us combines the sovereignty of God—that is, God’s absolute freedom to do whatever He wills—with the grace of God—that is, God’s underlying inclination to shower good things on those whom He has made—and sees the moment of our death, the moment of our passing from this world to the next, as a moment when God miraculously and instantaneously fixes everything that’s wrong with us. All our flaws and foibles suddenly disappear, and we wake up in the likeness of Christ.
Yet another approach solves the problem of the disconnect between the righteousness of the saints and the righteousness of us ordinary Christians by redefining “righteousness.” We are not really captive to the power of sin and death, but have been deceived into thinking and acting as if we are. In truth, each one of us still bears the full and undistorted image of God. Salvation lies in simply remembering and reclaiming this reality.
There is, I believe, an element of truth and hope in each one of these accounts, but I also believe that each one is ultimately a dead end. In each case, both grace and salvation are cheapened in ways that don’t go the distance. They give us short-term spiritual relief without solving our long-term spiritual problem. One of our problems is that we have an innate and habitual desire for quick fixes and shortcuts. It stems from the same impulse that leads us to clean our house for company by indiscriminately gathering up all the clutter, throwing it into a spare room, and shutting the door. It creates the impression of a job getting done without the job actually getting done.
By contrast, the path to sainthood is a journey of actual change, not just throwing the clutter in a spare room. It is important, and a fact for which we should be immensely grateful, that God “imputes” righteousness to us on the basis of what Jesus accomplishes on our behalf. But it’s only a stopgap. It gets us onto the playing field, but we still have to actually play the game. It is important, and a fact for which we should be immensely grateful, that God’s grace is an unmerited gift; we do not, and indeed cannot do anything to earn or deserve it. But it’s never magic, and it always requires our active cooperation. Spiritual therapy is in that respect no different than physical therapy, and anybody who’s had physical therapy can tell you that the therapist is there to help you and guide you, but you’ve got to be the one to actually do the work. And, yes, we have all quite forgotten who we are as creatures in the image of God, and we do need to recall and reclaim our identity in God. But the Fall of humankind, my brothers and sisters, is real, and we only deceive ourselves and others if we ignore that abundant evidence that we live under the power of sin and death just in the interest of making everybody feel better about themselves.
Consider, for a moment, that dramatic and emotionally-charged moment when Jesus calls a very dead Lazarus out of his tomb. After Lazarus complies, what does he instruct those around him to do? He says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” So Lazarus is not only risen from death, he is unbound and let go; the symbolism of that secondary act should not be lost on us. In our reading from Revelation today, God says, “Behold, I make all things new!” The Saints are those who have been made new, who have fully put away the “former things” that they have been, who have been unbound and let go from everything that was holding them captive. The author of the Book of Wisdom tells us that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God because God has tested them and found them worthy. Well, I suspect they have been found worthy because they have been made worthy.”
So the whole experience of faith in Christ, the whole journey of following Christ as a disciple, the whole process of salvation, is about having our souls taken apart and rebuilt, with the eventual result that the image of God in which we were made, but which has been distorted by sin, is perfectly restored. This begins when we initially come to Christ in faith and are “covered” with his righteousness “credited to our account.” It continues as we cooperate daily with God’s free and abundant grace as we worship and study and serve in community with others who are on the same journey. It concludes when we have fully remembered who are, when we can look God in the eye and not instantly turn to dust, because we “look like” Jesus in every respect. Then we will have joined the company of the saints in light whose heroic witness to the gospel we celebrate today. Praised be Jesus Christ in his angels and in his saints. Amen.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Out the door with Brenda at 8:30 so we could be at St George's, Belleville in time for an 11am Eucharist in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the relationship between St George's and St Mark Lutheran Church; they share facilities. We were joined by Bishop John Roth, my ELCA counterpart, who preached. After the liturgy, we adjourned to a nearby catering facility for an elegant luncheon banquet.
Back on the road at 3:30. Checked in at the Hampton Inn in Marion at little past 5:00. We were met at 5:30 by Fr Keith Roderick, who drove us to the home of Trish Guyon, one of his parishioners at St Andrew's, Carbondale, for another elegant meal, this time with St Andrew's vestry and spouses. Looking forward to tomorrow's official annual visit, and grateful for an extra hour's sleep!
Friday, November 2, 2012
- Morning Prayer (Office of the Dead) at home.
- Weight and treadmill workout.
- Processed a batch of emails.
- Took care of some administrative odds and ends pertaining to an upcoming ordination.
- Lunch while still at home.
- Drove in to the office around 1:15.
- Responded to an important email that has been in the queue for a few days.
- Wrote letters to the dioceses of Recife and Barbados, explaining the decision of our recent synod that it is time for us to release one another from the ties of a formal companion relationship. (We do this in order to enter into new relationships with Tabora and Peru.) A letter of this sort requires a certain delicacy of wording.
- Posted some major new material to the website: alternative forms for the Prayers of the People for the Sundays from Advent II through Epiphany Last.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Sundry administrative flotsam and jetsam.
- Produced a working draft of a homily for Proper 27 (St Thomas, Glen Carbon on the 11th).
- Attended to some Nashotah House board business.
- Lunch at home--leftovers.
- Did some master homiletical plotting and planning for the Sundays between Advent I and the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This was time-consuming.
- Cranked out a Chairman-of-the-Board article for the Lent issue (yes, you read that right; the lead time is that long) of The Missioner, Nashotah's quarterly magazine.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.