Thursday, May 31, 2012

Visitation of the BVM

  • Up earlier and out of the house later, owing to a Thursday habit of morning weight lifting and a vigorous treadmill workout I'm trying to establish.
  • Immediately distracted by ... administrivia ... when I got to the office, so the best I could manage was the short form of Morning Prayer, in my own office.
  • Made a call to one of our priests to discuss some ongoing issues in his congregation.
  • Met with the diocesan Standing Committee. One of their functions is to serve as my Council of Advice, and, in that duty, they excel.
  • Lunch with Randy Winn, a member of the Standing Committee from Trinity, Mount Vernon. Randy has an extensive professional background in capital fundraising. Guess what we talked about.
  • Thought and prayed my way through to a message statement for my homily at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel, on their feast of title (24 June).
  • Spoke extensively by phone with another of our priests, on matters both diocesan and parochial.
  • Hand-wrote notes to clergy who celebrate various life milestone anniversaries in June. 
  • Took care of some calendar organization issues.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thursday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a stack of emails.
  • Took a longish phone call from a seminary classmate seeking personal counsel.
  • Took a substantive phone call from the Rector's Warden of one of our parishes seeking strategic counsel.
  • Scouted out the venue for Saturday's Clergy Day and did some logistical planning.
  • Planned and plotted the necessary tasks associated with two Saturday seminars I'm giving at St Thomas', Salem, in August and September on the subject, Proclaiming the Gospel 101.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Completed and refined plans and preparations for the Clergy Day. This included putting a new LCD data projector through its paces, making sure it plays nicely with my laptop.
  • Gave the General Convention "Blue Book" (it's actually pink this year) a first cover-to-cover perusal.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday

  • After a week away from the office, debriefed on sundry matters with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Met with two members of the Mission Strategy Team over preparations for this Saturday's Clergy Day.
  • Refined my homily for Trinity Sunday, to be delivered, appropriately enough, at Holy Trinity, Danville.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Brief errant (personal) and shopping expedition (diocesan).
  • Spent the rest of the day processing hard copy--from my time at the Living Our Vows residency for new bishops, the Nashotah House board meeting, and whatever accumulated on my desk while I was away. ("Processing" might mean any combination of reading, responding by phone or email, discarding summarily, creating a future task, or scanning.)
  • Evening Prayer in the office (too hot in the cathedral!).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost

Having discovered that parishes tend to not want to see the Bishop on a holiday weekend, I was a Pentecost pew-sitter at St Paul's, Riverside, in the Diocese of Chicago.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday (St Augustine of Canterbury)

Having discovered last year that nobody is keen on seeing the bishop on a holiday weekend, this weekend is a scheduled "bye," even though it's Pentecost. So Brenda and I are having some family time in Chicagoland.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday (St Bede)

  • Checked out of the Hilton Garden in Oconomowoc in time for 8am Morning Prayer & Mass at Nashotah. Breakfast in the refectory.
  • Met with the trustees until 3pm (with a break for lunch). It was a productive and positive meeting. The House faces many challenges, but I believe we are well-positioned to meet them. Because Bishop Salmon is now serving as Dean and President on a sort of "temporarily permanent" basis, he could not continue as board chairman, a position in which he has served with distinction for many years. That lot fell to YFNB. It was not unexpected, but is nonetheless sobering. Of your charity, please spare me a regular prayer.
  • Headed south in my rental car, exchanging it for my own vehicle at Blooming-Normal airport. Home just before nine o'clock.
  • 4096 steps

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday (Jackson Kemper)

I'm always grateful when a complicated day of travel goes smoothly. My ride to Asheville airport from Lake Logan was at 6am, which got me there in more than plenty of time for my 8:30 departure. The layover was 45 minutes, which, when you're talking about Atlanta, is short; my connecting flight was boarding as soon as I got to the gate. We landed in Milwaukee at 11:30, and by 1:15, I was at Nashotah House in a rental car. Had a meeting with a priest interested in coming into the Diocese of Springfield, and moved around the post-graduation festivities saying hello to an array of people. The trustees met in a committee-of-the-whole from 2:30 until 3:30, then broke out into the actual committees (I'm on External Affairs) for about another hour. The time between adjournment and 5:30 Evensong allowed me to stroll prayerfully through the quiet of the cemetery, taking sober note of the graves of many of the bright lights of Nashotah's history, both ancient and modern, some from before my time, and some whom I have known. Hospitality hour and dinner were in the refectory, after which I had another exploratory chat with someone interested in coming into the diocese, this time a bishop-less seminarian. Now ensconsed in an Oconomowoc hotel, ready for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday

Morning: Consultation with Ron Casey on the results of a 360 degree feedback instrument that six people in the diocese filled out for me a couple of months ago; presentation on principles of fundraising; sharing of "critical incident reports" in small groups of four bishops and a faculty facilitator. This activity continued in the afternoon, and I found it quite helpful, in both processing my own "incident" and doing the same for others. The evening was free of any defined program for second year bishops, but we had a another very valuable time of sharing just among ourselves. I treasure these relationships.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday

At "Baby Bishops School" (aka Living Our Vows Residency). Morning: "The Bishop and the Prayer Book," with Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta and sometime seminary professor of liturgy. I like to think of this area as my strong suit, but he had some very helpful and challenging material. Afternoon: A seminar on leadership with Ron Casey, a clinical psychologist and organizational development consultant. Again, a subject I feel like I am immersed in, but I came away with fresh insights. Evening: A presentation from Episcopal Relief and Development, wherein we were familiarized with the principles of Asset Based Community Development. Between sessions and over meals, of course, there is opportunity for informal collegial interaction, of which it feels like there can never be enough.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday

Long day of travel and meetings. My wake-up call was at 4:30am, for a 6 o'clock departure from Bloomington. Made it to Lake Logan Episcopal Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina around 1pm, local time. Always good to reconnect with colleagues, and the program is usually stimulating. Today was pretty much devoted to "checking in" with one anther in various ways. The Class of 2011 bishops, together with colleagues from Cuba and Tanzania, had a particularly open and rather powerful informal time together this evening, in which there was remarkable agreement around the need to re-center the lives of our churches on the core of the gospel, very traditionally defined. It gave me a great deal of hope and encouragement. I think somebody somewhere might have been praying for us.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter

On the road at 7am to St Christopher's Church in Rantoul, in the northeast corner of the diocese; the closest parish north on I-57 would be in the Diocese of Chicago. Met Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley in time to get our dance steps straight for the 9:30 celebration of the Eucharist. After the Mass, there was a festive repast in the parish hall followed by a spirited conversation about mission strategy. I'm finding that, while my usual stump speech has some items in it that will unsettle many Episcopalians, most of the Episcopalians I run into on these occasions are sufficiently clear-eyed that they're ready to entertain the possibility of letting themselves be unsettled. Home around 2. Brenda and I watched the rather dark and disturbing Lars von Trier film Melancholia. Eventually I packed and got behind the wheel again at 8:15 for Bloomington. Better to make the drive tonight and spring for a hotel than have to leave Springfield tomorrow in time to catch a 6am flight from BMI. Headed to my second of three annual installments of "baby bishops school" at a conference center near Asheville, North Carolina.

Homily for Easter VII

(Working outline, as this is a "preach from the aisle" church.)


John 17:6-19
St Christopher’s, Rantoul

·       Wherever I go, there’s an elephant in the room: Church just isn’t like it used to be. More old people, fewer young people (if any). Empty pews, depressed morale. This elephant is certainly present at St Christopher’s.
·       It’s tempting for people like … bishops … to want to ride into places like … Rantoul… as if they were “white knights” (new sheriff, Lone Ranger w/ silver bullet), ready to “fix” things and restore everything to the glory of … 1960.
·       I am going to resist that temptation, because I cannot fix anything and I cannot see the future. I believe God has an exciting future in mind for the community of Christian disciples known as the Diocese of Springfield, but I cannot promise you anything about what that future looks like.
·       Here’s what I can promise you: We are a community for whom Jesus prays.
·       Narrative context (eve of crucifixion) … Jesus turns his attention from his Farewell Discourse, and relegates his disciples (those present then, and, by extension, us) to a marginal but important position of overhearing him in a time of intimate prayer to the Father.
·       I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours; all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 
·       This passage has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, because Jesus is exercising the essential ministry of priesthood (generically conceived), which is intercession—he is praying for his followers, particularly in light of his impending absence.
·       As those who overhear, our invitation is not so much to decode instructions or marching orders for ourselves, but to take heart from the knowledge that God the Son lifts up our best interests into the heart of God the Father.
·       We just celebrated the Feast of the Ascension last Thursday, the theological significance of which is that human nature now resides in the heart of God, and that Jesus our High Priest continually makes intercession for us.
·       Jesus our High Priest continually makes intercession for the community of St Christopher’s Church in Rantoul, Illinois. He sees the same “elephants” that we see. Our future is in God’s hands, and I believe we can trust God with that stewardship.
·       This knowledge does not absolve us of responsibility for discerning vocation and living as obedient disciples. But it does allow us to lay down the burden of producing “results.” Our job is to be faithful. Results are up to God. And in the meantime, Jesus is praying for us.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday (St Dunstan)

  • An early day, as Saturdays go: In the office/cathedral area at 9am to get ready for the Mass that begins the quarterly Diocesan Council meeting at 10. Celebrated the preached the commemoration of St Dunstan of Canterbury.
  • Council was neither particularly dramatic nor particularly boring. There was some important, but non-contentious, discussion around a handful of issues, plus the usual routine reports.
  • Quick lunch at China 1 on South Grand.
  • Reconvened at 1pm at the office with the General Convention deputation (or most of it, at any rate). Helpful discussion about both technical practicalities and some of the substantive issues convention will be dealing with.
  • Home around 3pm for a brief nap, a workout, and a bunch of email processing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent the morning creating Power Point slides for the material I will be presenting at the Clergy Day on June 2. (Note to clergy: YFNB is a responsible Power Point user. It will not be mind-numbing.)
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took "my share in the councils of the church" via some exchanges on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv on the novel (and uncanonical) practice of offering Holy Communion to people who have not been baptized.
  • Considered options and consulted others regarding policy on when and by whom we take care of the canonical obligation that candidates for Holy Orders be examined by a mental health professional.
  • Various items of administrivia.
  • Tested myself on my ability to name the 60 counties (and their seats) that are included in the Diocese of Springfield. I got 24. I want to do better. A continuing project.
  • Lectio divina on the Old Testament reading in tomorrow's Daily Office lectionary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension

  • Up on the early side for time on the Bowflex and treadmill.
  • Morning Prayer began in the cathedral and concluded in my office, owing to the arrival of a school field trip.
  • Discussed a sensitive administrative issue at some length with the Archdeacon.
  • Did exegetical research on the gospel for the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, on which I will be preaching at the parish of that name in Mount Carmel. Do you know how many variations of the name John there are, and in how many languages? It's astonishing.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Met with the initial three members of the newly-formed Spiritual Vitality Team of the Department of General Mission Strategy. Exciting beyond words to see the mission strategy vision take shape.
  • Conferred with Dean Brodie over some concerns relating to the cathedral parish.
  • Worked on preparations for the June 2 clergy day.
  • Left around 5 for Pekin to celebrate Ascension with the good people of St Paul's, along with All Saints, Morton. Home around 10.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Called Apple over an unexpected invoice relating to the broken iPhone they replaced last week. I seem to have fallen into some sort of contractual dead zone, and there's nothing I can do about it. Grrr.
  • Worked on planning and preparation for the June 2 clergy day.
  • Took a phone call from Fr Kellington regarding tomorrow's Ascension Day liturgy at St Paul's, Pekin.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (St Christopher's, Rantoul).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Spent my periodic hour or so working on the website. Some slight progress.
  • Took a phone call from an old friend who is now a colleague bishop in Canada.
  • Took care of a routine personal organization maintenance chore.
  • Dashed off an email to Canterbury Cathedral, beginning to lay the groundwork for a pilgrimage there by youth from the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Worked on my homily for Trinity Sunday (Holy Trinity, Danville).
  • Evening Prayer (for the Eve of Ascension) in the cathedral.
  • Home briefly for supper, then back for the regular May meeting of the cathedral chapter. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent the entire morning processing email (writing responses, following up with phone calls, downloading and filing attachments).
  • Lunch at home + a dog walk, since "mom" is still out of town.
  • Finished email processing.
  • Hand wrote, in Portuguese, a much-belated note of condolence to the Diocese of Recife (Southern Cone) in the wake of the murder of their bishop and his wife earlier this year.
  • Cleaned out my physical inbox--scanning, reading, filing.
  • Left at 4pm for St Louis and an hors d'oeuvre reception put on by the Sewanee Club of St Louis at the home of Bishop Ed and Louise Salmon. An elegant affair. Two hours each way, so I was back home at 10.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sixth Sunday of Easter

I think St James, Marion may be the only church in the diocese with an 11am Sunday liturgy. This means I had a rather low-impact morning, as I was in Mt Vernon for the night, about an hour away. We had a spirited celebration of the Eucharist and a joyful time over potluck food in the parish house afterward. It is evident that Mother Sherry Black and Deacon Hal Toberman are providing excellent leadership to this small church community. I arrived home about 4:30, chastened by having almost run out of gas, for sheer inattention to the gauge, and grateful that I was only two miles south of the Litchfield exit when I noticed.

Sermon for Easter VI


John 15:9-17
St James, Marion       


As some of you may know, I began my ordained ministry, 23 years ago this summer, as a chaplain and religion instructor at a parochial day school. The curriculum that I was using to teach the first through fourth graders included a unit on what are known—although I didn’t use this term with them—as the “three cardinal virtues,” referring, of course, to faith, hope, and love. We had done very well with faith and hope, and so it was finally time to talk about love. So I asked them, “What would you say love is—what would be a good definition for love.” I received quite a variety of answers to this question, but the consistent thread that ran through every class was something like this:  “Love is when you like someone a whole lot.” In other words, to put it in more grownup language, love is a particularly intense feeling of affection. As long as the feeling lasts, love endures. When the feeling dies, love vanishes. 

Our Lord says, unequivocally, “Love one another.”  I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of intimidated by commands like this. I don’t always feel very loving. I don’t always feel an intense affection for everyone I meet, even my brothers and sisters in Christ.  As long as we understand love to be a feeling, we are only going to end up frustrated, angry, and feeling guilty. So you can see the bind that we’re in. Christians are exhorted to love each other. None of us, though, is capable of feeling intense affection for all the people in our lives, so it’s humanly impossible to keep the command to love one another. And nothing is more damaging to one’s self-esteem than to be constitutionally incapable of carrying out a clear command from God. 

So, perhaps my students at St Luke’s School were wrong. Perhaps love is something other than “liking someone a whole lot.” Perhaps the sort of Christian love that we are called to is something more what we call “giving to charity.”  If this is love, then we certainly have plenty of chances to show it. Every day we’re flooded with charitable appeals, from the United Thank Offering box sitting on the kitchen counter to Episcopal Relief and Development, to the United Way, and hundreds of thousands of other worthy causes. Yet, “giving to charity” is, in the end, just as frustrating as trying to like everybody a lot. The world is always needy, and getting more needy all the time. The demand for “charity” is unending, a bottomless pit. The earthquakes, the wars, the floods, the droughts, the famines—all create an endless cycle of need that we simply cannot keep up with. If we cannot satisfy the commandment to love one another until we have satisfied these needs, then we are hopelessly guilty, hopelessly incapable of meeting such a requirement. Indeed, what failures we are! We are not able to love one another as God commands us to. We can’t feel intensely affectionate toward all the people in our lives, and we can’t give enough to charity to take care of all the victims of this world. God must not like us very much.  And, if loving is just a more intense version of liking, then it must logically follow that God doesn’t love us either! 

Now we’re really in a conflict, because the scriptures assure us time and time again that God does love us, completely and irrevocably. I hope God also likes us—although I suspect that there are times, at least, that he doesn’t. But that’s beside the point, because his love for us is declared and demonstrated in the strongest possible terms. The measure of God’s love is declared and demonstrated in the act of the Son of God’s laying down his life for us, for his friends, for those whom he loves. “No one has greater love than this,” says Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of St John’s gospel, “than to lay down one’s life for those one loves.”  And in the same breath, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” 

As I have loved you. 

How has Jesus loved us? By laying down his life. How, then, are we to love one another?  The same way: by laying down our lives.  Christian love is not essentially about feeling, and it is not about giving to charity. Christian love is essentially about sacrifice, about laying down one’s life.  In this time, and in this place, of course, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will be asked to spill our own blood for the sake of Christian love. But there are countless other opportunities for us to lay down our lives in ways that fall short of physical death. 

We lay down our lives when we yield a place of honor to someone who may be less deserving of it than we are. We lay down our lives when we perform a service but give up being recognized for what we’ve done. We lay down our lives when we make an anonymous gift—and, I might add, we lay down our lives when we consent to graciously receive thanks and recognition for a gift or service when we really would rather remain anonymous. We lay down our lives when we devote time or attention or just a listening ear to someone who may not even be all that needy, but nevertheless asks this of us. We lay down our lives whenever we are generously willing to give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assigning blame or responsibility. We lay down our lives when we give up our right to be right, when we give up what is justly due us. We lay down our lives when we refuse to participate in petty quarrels and “turf” battles, especially within the church community. We lay down our lives when we give up the sublime and sweet pleasure of not being on speaking terms with, or feeling superior to, another member of the body of Christ. 

We have the opportunity to lay down our lives, to love one another as Christ loved us, every hour of every day. When we realize and claim God’s love for us, manifested in Christ laying down his life, we are empowered to lay down our lives and let the love of Christ flow freely through us. This habitual laying down of our lives in love, every day, day after day, eventually benefits us, as well as those who are the objects of our love.  It allows us to identify with Christ in his death, which is at the heart of the process of the salvation of our souls. It allows us to experience that peace which passes all understanding. It may even—within the economy of God’s love and even his liking of us—enable us to feel deep affection toward those for whom we lay down our lives.

And, we may even, on occasion, be permitted to see the results of the sacrificial love which we offer, just before it’s sucked into a black hole. But whether or not we are ever allowed these momentary glimpses, we can rest in the assurance that we are indeed able to keep the command that we love one another. It doesn’t demand that we feel anything. It doesn't demand that we fix anything. It does invite us to claim the faith and the courage, both of which God offers us in his word and in his sacraments, to lay down our lives as Christ laid down his life for us.  Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.  

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday

  • Saw Brenda off to the airport in Springfield, where she began her journey to New York for a three-day visit with our eldest.
  • Household chores, interspersed with answering emails and refining arrangements for some upcoming trips.
  • Drove to Mount Vernon (where I-64 crosses I-57, and you can get most anywhere from) ahead of tomorrow's visit to St James', Marion (about 50 miles down the road from here).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • This was one of those days when it felt inordinately difficult to get traction; lots of distractions and interruptions (mostly via email).
  • Took my first prayerful look at the readings for the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, which falls on a Sunday this year, when I just happen to be visiting St John te Baptist, Mount Carmel. It's fun to preach on a text I've never worked with homiletically before.
  • Met with a retired priest of the diocese in regard to possibilities for continued service in retirement.
  • Lunch from LaBamba, eaten at home.
  • Worked on the website. Actually made some satisfying progress. The reason this is taking so long is that everybody involved with it has a "day job," so it just gets done piecemeal. Do be patient.
  • Took a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood.
  • Negotiated with our three transitional deacons for another day of liturgical formation. Now on the calendar.
  • Recruited, by email, members of an ad hoc team to reevaluate our companion diocese relationships and prepare recommendations.
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday

  • Up a little earlier than usual to get some quality time on the weights and treadmill before breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Pulled together a draft working outline of a homily for Easter VII, Sunday after next at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
  • Made a hotel reservation near Bloomington airport for the night of the 20th, as I have a 6am departure from there on the 21st.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Drilled more deeply into planning for a fall conference for clergy and musicians. Details forthcoming.
  • Took a 20 minute walk, just to get my legs moving.
  • Worked on some materials for the June 3 clergy day.
  • Attended to a couple of relatively minor administrative chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday (St Gregory of Nazianzus)

  • Email processing at home, Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Made travel and lodging arrangements for my trip to Washington, D.C. next month to ordain David Peters to the priesthood. Have mentioned before how much time this sort of thing consumes?
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (St James', Marion).
  • A couple of errands, then lunch at home.
  • Initiated contact with Episcopal Relief and Development regarding the possibility of a grant toward reconstruction of homes in Harrisburg, hit hard by a tornado early this spring.
  • Made a long overdue response to a tricky pastoral-administrative situation.
  • After consideration and consultation, set a date for the institution of Fr Tony Clavier as Vicar of Glen Carbon/Granite City.
  • Initiated contact with a potential conductor for the 2013 pre-Lenten clergy retreat.
  • Took care of some routine personal organization system maintenance.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday (Julian of Norwich)

Since I have not been around the office much in the last couple of weeks, there was an inordinately large pile of detritus on my desk, of varying levels of importance, which needed to be processed by reading and or scanning and or creating a task and or replying somehow. Between this and the fact that my iPhone died and Apple sent a replacement that needed to be activated and synced and otherwise brought up to speed with my life, my whole day was pretty well consumed. I did manage to pray both the morning and evening offices in the cathedral.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter


Celebrated and preached at 8:00 and 10:15 at Emmanuel, Champaign, with several confirmations and one reception at the main liturgy. Brenda and I were taken care of with exemplary hospitality by Fr Alan Herbst, Deacon Chris Hopkins, and the entire Emmanuel community. This is a vital and lively parish, a real asset to the diocese.

Astonishingly tasty and unusual Mexican cuisine at Huaraches Moroleon, a new restaurant in an out-of-the-way residential neighborhood in Urbana. This is not typical Mexican restaurant fare.
Home around 3:30, in time to watch the Cubs edge out the Dodgers in extra innings, and get a nice long and slow walk in before dark.

Homily for Easter V


John 15:1-8
Emmanuel, Champaign                                                                                             

In the run up to the last major revision of the Episcopal Church’s canons on clergy discipline, in the first draft of those changes, there were, for the first time, provisions for the discipline not only of clergy, but of lay persons as well. Of course, this idea got shot down pretty quickly, for a lot of different reasons, and we are still without any formal process for disciplining lay people who misbehave in some way—except for one thing. In the fine print of the Book of Common Prayer, it says that if the priest sees certain kinds of behavior, and knows that the person exhibiting that behavior intends to come to the altar for Holy Communion, the priest shall—not “may”—the priest shall tell that person that he or she may not receive the sacrament without evidence of amendment of life.

Now, I have to tell you, I have never followed through on this, even though there have been some circumstances when I probably should have. In effect, this is the Episcopalian version of a disciplinary act that we associate more with the Roman Catholic Church—that is, excommunication. To be denied the sacrament of Holy Communion is a bigger deal than it might seem at first. To be ex-communicated means to be separated from the fellowship—the communion—of the Church, the Body of Christ. It is, indeed, to be cut off from Christ.

To the extent that we are at all influenced by the Protestant Reformation—and I think we all are, not so much because we are Anglicans as because we are Americans—we have a hard time wrapping our minds around something like this. We tend to think of Christian faith and church involvement as discretionary, voluntary. We can join a church when we find one that seems to meet our perceived needs, and we can leave a church when it fails to meet those needs, or we find another one that meets our needs even better, just like we choose a supermarket, or a health care provider, or our internet service.

And so, even if we are never excommunicated as an act of church discipline—and I hope none of us ever are—we still, I fear, have a propensity to excommunicate ourselves.  In a small way, every time we miss Mass on Sunday for any reason that is within our control, we excommunicate ourselves. We cut ourselves off from Christ. On any single occasion, this does not do us noticeable spiritual harm. But one occasion has a way of leading to two, and two to three, and three to a bunch, and, pretty soon, missing Mass is a habit, and a habit of missing Mass does do us serious spiritual harm. It is voluntary excommunication, voluntary separation from Christ, or, in the language of today’s gospel reading, failure to “abide in the vine.” That failure may be active or it may be passive, but, either way, it cuts us off from Christ, because Jesus himself tells us, “I am the true vine.”

Jesus, the True Vine, tells us, “Abide in me and I in you.” We don’t use that word “abide” in our everyday English vocabulary anymore. It sounds kind of quaint, kind of exotic. What does it mean to “abide”? The place where we abide is simply where we live, the place which we inhabit. My home is my “abode,” because that’s where I abide. To abide in Christ is to share the life of Christ in a sustained, habitual manner. In the city of Springfield, there’s been an undercurrent of resentment against the present governor of Illinois and his predecessor because, even though Springfield is the state capital, and even though there’s a very nice home for the governor in Springfield, the last two governors have not chosen to abide there, but merely to drop in occasionally from Chicago. Visiting is not abiding. Abiding is sustained, habitual. We abide in Christ when we encounter him frequently in the sacraments—particularly Holy Communion, but also Reconciliation—making our confession—and, when are sick or injured, Holy Unction. We abide in Christ when we habitually immerse ourselves in Scripture, making the language and syntax of the Bible the language and syntax of our souls. We abide in Christ when we cultivate a habit of daily prayer, particularly the “official” prayer of the Church—Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as they are known in our tradition. We abide in Christ when are faithful to the community of Christ—in your case, the community of Emmanuel Church and the Diocese of Springfield, taking the relationships we find in that community into the deepest places of our hearts. We abide in Christ when we are with Christ where he is in the world, alongside the poor and the marginalized, among them not as one who is served, but as one who serves. We abide in Christ when we allow him to make us apostles—those who are sent, those who are engaged in the mission of the Body of Christ, which is to reconcile all people to God and one another in Christ.

But abiding is a two-way street. We stay connected to Christ and he stays connected to us. Just a few weeks ago I was at the Toddhall Retreat Center south of Belleville—no doubt some of you have been there—and I was admiring a beautiful grape arbor, a luxuriant vine that spreads out and covers a considerable area, but which can all be traced eventually down to a single trunk coming up out of the ground. Jesus is the trunk. Jesus is the trunk of the vine, and we are all branches of the vine, part of the marvelously complex and organic structure that shelters and shades the area beneath it. The vine is a powerful image, and reminds us compellingly that the Church is not really a voluntary society, a group of like-minded individuals, but an organism, something biological. It is, as one of our prayers puts it, a “wonderful and sacred mystery,” described much more effectively by poetry than by any prose I would be able to come up with.

The vine of a grape arbor, of course, does more than provide shade and shelter. It bears fruit. But once in a while, there’s a dead branch, a non-fruit bearing branch. As branches of the True Vine, as members of the organic Body of Christ, the fruit we are expected to bear is the fruit of love. But when we fail to abide in the vine, when we fail to abide in Christ, when we voluntarily excommunicate ourselves, we bear the fruit of apathy, which is to say, not-love. The opposite of love is not hostility or hatred. The opposite of love is apathy, failure to care. But the fruit of apathy, of course, is no fruit at all, and when a branch bears no fruit at all, proper horticultural practice is to lop it off—as it were, to excommunicate it. By warning us of this possibility, Jesus is not trying to scare us. He’s trying to encourage us to be fruit-bearing branches of the True Vine.

And when we do that, when we abide in Christ, when we abide in the vine, the fruit that we bear is indeed the fruit of love—love toward other parts of the vine; that is, our sisters and brothers within the communion of the church, within the fellowship of the Body of Christ—and love toward those who are not yet part of the vine, but who may yet be grafted onto it through faith, repentance, and waters of New Birth.

Christ is risen. Alleluia and Amen. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday

  • Usual Saturday "slow" morning.
  • Spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone to Apple because my iPhone has suddenly become possessed and it behaving erratically. After two phone calls and a system restore, the problem is worse than ever. Stay tuned.
  • Weights, treadmill, lunch, pack.
  • On the road at 2:15 for a 4pm meeting with the vestry of Emmanuel, Champaign, followed by Evening Prayer and a parish bratwurst party. 
  • With most of an evening left to kill, Brenda and I took in The Hunger Games. I was not previously familiar with the story. Disappointed that it didn't go the direction I thought it might.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday

  • The return of something resembling routine was a welcome development. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Took care of some administrivia related to the Bishop's Discretionary Fund.
  • Continued the planning process for a fall clergy conference.
  • Worked on the draft of my sermon for Easter VI (St James, Marion).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Stopped by the AT&T store for some help with an iPhone issue.
  • Did the exegetical work for my sermon on Easter VII (St Christopher's, Rantoul). I delved into more territory than I would ever be able to cover in a homily, but I enjoyed the study a great deal. 
  • Look over my June visitations and made a few notes to myself.
  • Spent another hour trying to learn my way around the still-in-beta revised diocesan website. Determined to crack this nut.
  • Spent a fruitful half hour in discursive meditation on the gospel passage in today's Daily Office lectionary.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thursday

My day was consumed by a sacred duty that is simultaneously sorrowful and joyful, sweet and bitter. Fr John Bettman's requiem was at 11, at St Paul's, Carlinville. After some time for post-liturgical socializing, the committal was in Glen Carbon, another 50 minutes or so further away from Springfield. We gave him a good sendoff, I think. I never cease to be amazed at how well the Prayer Book liturgy bears the freight of such occasions. I was home right a 5, one very tired introvert.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday (St Athanasius)

After breakfast at the retreat center, we drove in to downtown Cincinnati and the offices of Forward Movement, which are located on the upper floor of the building that also houses the offices of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, next door to Christ Church Cathedral. We concluded our business in time for an 11am Eucharist in the diocesan chapel, at which the Bishop of Southern Ohio (an ex oficio member of the Forward Movement board) presided. After a cookout lunch in a very pleasant outdoor seating area just outside the Bishop's office, I hit the road for home, arriving at about 5:30 (it's around 350 miles). En route I participated in a long and substantive conference call as part of the steering committee of the Communion Partners Bishops. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ss Philip & James

An engaging and productive day spent with the other board members of Forward Movement, at the retreat house operated by the Community of the Transfiguration, a religious community for women in Glendale, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. This is a diverse and talented group of leaders, from whom I learn much. And I believe Forward Movement is well positioned to be a key player in church renewal. In the evening, a rollicking thunderstorm knocked out power for about three hours, but we kept on working by flashlight anyway.