Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sermon for St Michael & All Angels

No text for this one, given Sunday the 30th at St Michael's, O'Fallon, as it was improvised. But here's a YouTube audio link.

The Lord's Day

On the road at 7am to make a 9:15 Eucharist at St Michael's, O'Fallon. Presided and preached at a spirited celebration of their feast of title, St Michael and All Angels. Brunch followed the liturgy, then a very lively question and answer time on an unusually broad range of issues. Home a little past two o'clock. Enjoyed a very brief period of down time before grabbing a different vestment bag and heading for the First United Methodist Church for the welcoming service for the newly-assigned bishop for their Illinois conference, in which I was honored to take a small part. Then it was back home to quickly change clothes, pack for three nights away, feed and walk the dog (Brenda having already left by train for an overnight in Chicago) before getting back on the road at 7 headed toward Indianapolis, from whence I write. En route, I had two scheduled phone conversations with potential candidates for the vacancy at St John the Divine in Champaign, and one with the Rector's Warden of Emmanuel in the same city in order to discuss transition issues. (Fr Herbst has announced his retirement, effective November 4). Tomorrow morning it's on to Cincinnati for the Forward Movement board meeting.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

St Michael & All Angels

  • Indulged in a "soft" morning. Then got in a good treadmill workout. 
  • Loaded up and out the door at 11:30 for Decatur, where we duly installed Fr Dick Swan as rector of St John's. It seems to be a very happy place now, for which I give thanks. Back in Springfield just before 5pm.
  • Not my ideal Saturday evening, but one does what needs to be done: Spent most of it responding to emails, making travel arrangements for upcoming trips, and setting up phone conversations with clergy interested in coming into the diocese.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday


Woke up in a Champaign hotel room. (That didn't come as a particular surprise this time, but there have been occasions since I've been doing this job when I've awakened in the middle of the night and had to focus pretty hard on remembering where I am.) The proceedings for the Annual Assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches began with registration at 8:30am. Had some productive chat time with my ELCA counterpart, Bishop John Roth, and the ecumenical officer for the Roman diocese, Fr Kevin Laughery. We then had a worship service in the spectacularly beautiful Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church I had to smile wryly to myself in observing that, in an ecumenical setting, where worship needs to be as non-specific as possible, the event ends of gravitating to the where non-specific worship is the norm; that is, when the goal is the lowest common denominator, those who naturally occupy that territory end up with an experience very much like what they would have come up with on their own and for themselves. So what we did was very pan-liberal protestant. I'd rather we have done something Greek Orthodox.

The theme of the day was Remembering Vatican II Fifty Years Later. The panel consisted of a Roman Catholic ecumenical activist, a United Methodist historian and ecumenist, one of my colleague bishops who served as the Presiding Bishops ecumenical officer for a decade, and the pastor of our host parish. They all had interesting presentations that provoked interesting discussion over lunch and in the afternoon session. I am passionate about ecumenism. Compared to the tsunami of cultural change that we are staring at, the differences that divide Christian from one another seem inconsequential. 

After a brief business meeting, we adjourned around 2:30. On the drive home, I checked in by phone with Fr Walter Knowles, who will be leading our clergy and musicians' conference in November, and Mother Virginia Bennett, laid up recovering from a fractured femur. It will be a long road for her, and for the people of St Andrew's in Edwardsville. Do hold everyone in your prayers.

I got back to Springfield in time to stop by the office, look at a couple of items that had appeared on my desk, grab my beads and head into the cathedral for the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, followed by Evening Prayer.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

St Vincent de Paul

  • Usual AM routine. MP in the cathedral.
  • Met with one of our priests over some ongoing concerns with respect to a congregation he serves.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Proper 22 (St Laurence, Effingham).
  • Took a phone call from another of our priests facing different, but still similar, issues as my in-person meeting earlier.
  • Fleshed out my homily for the Sunday after All Saints' Day (St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Lunch from McDonald's, eaten at home
  • Processed a goodly batch of emails. Some that I took care of at the end of the batch did not exist when I attacked the beginning of the batch.
  • Took care of the clergy milestone event cards for October. Got writer's cramp. Fortunately, it's the thought that counts, not legibility.
  • Beginning with an outline already prepared, I began drafting the actual text of my Synod address (October 19). It may look like I'm getting ahead of a lot of work well in advance of due dates. But you haven't seen my October trave calendar yet.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Hit the road at 4:45 for Champaign, where the annual assembly of the Illinois Council of Churches meets tomorrow. Tonight was a dinner for "judicatories" (what an awful word!).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday (Lancelot Andrewes)

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Further developed the outline for my address to the annual diocesan Synod on October 19.
  • Fleshed out the essential content of my homily for Proper 23 (Cairo and Harrisburg).
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Brought forth a completed but unrefined draft of my homily for the Synod Eucharist.
  • Took care of some administrative work (a marital judgment request).
  • Produced a finished but unrefined draft of my homily for Bruce DeGooyer's ordination to the priesthood next week.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent my evening cranking out this blog post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday (St Sergius)

    Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed about a dozen email messages, which, to my horror, took me until 11:30. A handful of them required thoughtful responses, and thoughtful responses take time.
  • Took a phone call from one of our clergy, on three disparate matters.
  • Began to work on the accumulated pile of hard-copy items on the corner of my desk and in my inbox, some of which has been there since my vacation. I can tolerate desk chaos for a while, but eventually I reach a tipping point and it just needs to be dealt with. That was today.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Continued with the desk-clearing, now employing my portable scanner. This consumed most of my afternoon, until after 4:30.
  • Fleshed out and refined a working draft of my homily for this Sunday at St Michael's, O'Fallon. When I finished, it was after 6pm. Evening Prayer fell through the cracks today.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

Up and out of our Bloomington hotel at 7am, ahead of a 7:30 Eucharist. Presided and preached, then talked with parishioners about mission and vision concerns during coffee hour. Did it all over again at 10, only with two baptisms and six confirmations thrown into the mix. Spirited plenary discussion of the church’s engagement with culture during coffee hour. Pulled out of the St Matt’s parking lot around 12:45 and headed north to Chicago for some time with the progeny tonight and tomorrow.

Sermon for St Matthew's Day


During Ordinary Time, a worshiping community may transfer its feast of title to the nearest Sunday. Hence, St Matthew's, Bloomington celebrated St Matthew's Day on what was otherwise the  Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Matthew 9:9-13, Proverbs 3:1-6, Psalm 119:33-40

As I travel around the diocese, now on my second round of parish visitations, and have conversations with congregations and vestries in parish halls after coffee hour or during the adult education time, and as I share the emerging vision for mission in the diocese, it’s pretty much the same conversation in every place. The details vary, but there are some important themes that come up every time. One of these themes is the rapid dechristianization of western society. Within my lifetime it could accurately be said that, while America has never been officially a Christian nation, it is very much a Christian culture. Not everybody went to church, but pretty much everybody at least had a particular church that they didn’t go to!

We can’t say that anymore. Things have changed, and changed more quickly, than most of us had anticipated. We can no longer assume that someone who is raised and educated in this country has at least a basic understanding of what Christianity is about. In fact, I would suggest that the problem, from our perspective as Christians—particularly when we’re talking about people under the age of around forty—the problem lies not only in what they don’t know about Christianity, but in what they think they do know that isn’t accurate. The people we interact with every day are swimming in a sea of misconceptions about what the gospel is and what it means to have Christian faith and what it looks like to live as a follower of Jesus.

Some of these misconceptions center around the notion that the heart of Christianity is about keeping a certain set of rules—rules that strike many people, particularly young adults, as just self-evidently stupid and worthy of ridicule. So we have a PR problem. And passages of scripture such as we encounter on this celebration of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew don’t appear to be making our job any easier.

First we heard these words from the Book of Proverbs: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments …bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Then we prayed these words together from Psalm 119: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.” And then we encountered a passage from Matthew’s gospel where the Pharisees appear to criticize Jesus for breaking a religious rule, a rule that says you can’t hang out socially with people whose manner of life was considered morally suspect. I suspect that many of our contemporaries might be critical of Jesus, not for hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners,” but for hanging out with Pharisees! But, either way, we still have our PR problem.

Of course, the roots of our PR problem go beyond scripture passages like these. The most primitive Christian creed may not be about laws or rules, but it is about authority. It’s simply this: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord … of everything … and everyone. When I explain the vows of baptism to a young child, I use very direct language: “Jesus is the boss of me.” Commandments … statutes … laws … rules … authority … someone to boss us around. There it is. There’s our PR problem. People who already think that Christianity is about “keeping the rules” and then hear stuff like this are just going to be confirmed in their misconceptions and get as far away from any church or community of Christians as they can.

Alongside the process of shaking off our Christian roots, our culture is also becoming progressively more individualistic. Americans have always been pretty individualistic (sometimes I think our national anthem should be Frank Sinatra singing “My Way”), but we’ve really ramped it up in the last few decades, and I’m afraid my own Baby Boomer generation is largely at fault. We’re the ones who undermined the whole idea of social conformity in the 60s and 70s. We became adults in a very anti-authority, anti-rule, frame of mind. We were raised to ask the question, “How am I supposed to do this?” but as we’ve matured, the question has changed to, “How can I make this work for me?”

One illustration, I think, will make my point: When my parents were young, it would scarcely have occurred to a couple in love to move in together before getting married. It just wasn’t done. It was against the rules. Among my Baby Boomer peers, when we were young, we knew it was against the rules, but a lot of us didn’t care, and thought the rules were stupid, and many of us did it. Among our children’s generation, who are now young adults, it’s not so much that they’re into rule-breaking as that it never occurs to them that there are any rules on the subject. Cohabitation is seen as a completely normal and unremarkable behavior, and to suggest otherwise is at best stupid, and probably controlling and bigoted. The only rules that are acceptable are those that keep us from doing immediate harm to each other, and for those we have police departments. Anything else is … well … nobody’s business.

I can identify. My earliest understanding of Christianity was a misconception. I thought it was possible to take Jesus as my Savior without also taking him as my Lord. I trusted that Jesus’ self-offering on the cross could win forgiveness of my sins and save me from an eternity of suffering outside the presence of God. But I drew the line there, and wasn’t interested in naming Jesus as my Lord, acknowledging Jesus as “the boss of me.” You see, I was afraid that, if I turned my life completely over to Christ, if I told Jesus, “I will go where you send me and do what you tell me,” Jesus would for sure send me to be a missionary in the jungles of Africa, and I didn’t want to be a missionary in the jungles of Africa. If I recognized Jesus as my Lord, I may as well pack my mosquito netting and start taking malaria shots.

I suspect that everybody in this church this morning has their own personal version of what, for me, was becoming a missionary in the jungles of Africa. Each one of us has our own unique and customized reason for holding out on Jesus, for claiming the benefits of Christ the Savior while resisting turning everything over the Christ the Lord. But on this feast of St Matthew, in St Matthew’s Church, we hear a voice gently inviting us to rethink that question. We hear a voice gently inviting us to let go of our confusion and our fear. We hear the same voice that Matthew heard as he sat doing his job as a toll collector for the Roman government. We hear the voice of Jesus saying two simple words: “Follow me.” And, despite our best efforts at stopping our ears and ignoring that call, we know in our heart of hearts that in those two words lie our only hope for enduring peace, freedom, purpose, and joy. The spirit of St Matthew, the spirit of the saint whom we honor today, the patron saint of this parish, is the spirit of surrender.

It took a vibrant youth ministry during my high school years in the church I was raised in to get me past my fear of owning Jesus as my Lord. But I did it. I did it joyfully, and I’ve never regretted it. Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is Lord of me. I’m relieved to say that I was wrong about being called to be a missionary to the people of the African rain forest. The Lord had something rather more challenging in mind. I can tell you that that Baptist boy at least had an idea of what it’s like to be a missionary in Africa, but he could not even have imagined being called to serve as a bishop in the Episcopal Church!

In spite of all our conditioning to resist authority and challenge not only rules but the whole idea of objective norms, our invitation today is one of surrender, one of humbly following the one whose service is perfect freedom. This is a frightening proposition. Our instinct is to rebel, or to flee, or both. But when we exercise the faith to let go of our own egos and aspirations, and give ourselves without reservation to “mission work in Africa”, we find that God invariably gives us back not only the selves we thought we had, the selves we thought we were, but he gives us back our truer selves. This is exactly what Jesus did with Matthew. He received a tax collector, something Matthew thought defined his identity, but he gave back an Apostle and Evangelist, something greater than Matthew could ever have asked for or imagined.

As a true child of my generation, I don’t think I’ll ever, in this life, reach the point of not being at least a little put off by somebody telling me what the rules are, and dictating what I have to do. But as a follow of Jesus, I have learned the blessing that comes from surrender, of finding myself after having first lost myself. Behind any written code of law is something more enduring still, Ultimate Reality itself, that which we do not invent or choose, but simply recognize and receive. Behind any authority is the Author himself. He is not merely the ruler, but is himself the Rule. He is not merely the law-giver, but is himself the Law. He is the One to whom we offer our surrender, no longer, in the words of the Proverb, leaning on our own understanding.

Today would be a good day for the people of St Matthew’s Church to emulate their patron saint, to follow Jesus on the road of discipleship. 

Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday (Philander Chase)

Up and out by 7:30 in order to be at St Thomas', Salem for the second of two "marathon" teaching sessions on evangelism. What an attentive, stimulating, and appreciative group this was, representing four parishes of the Eastern Deanery. Some very exciting things are happening in the Diocese of Springfield. It was nearly four o'clock by the time I left Salem, which put me home around 6:00. After an hour to change clothes, pack, and rest a wee bit, it was back on the highway, this time with Brenda with me. We headed for Bloomington-Normal, where tomorrow's visit is at St Matthew's, beginning with a 7:30am liturgy. We had a late dinner at the Normal incarnation of one of our favorite haunts from our Indiana sojourn, Flat Top Grill, then checked in at the Hampton Inn on the west side.

Friday, September 21, 2012

St Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

  • Email processing at home. Up and out at the usual hour.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Called and spoke briefly with Mother Virginia Bennett, rector of St Andrew's, Edwardsville. She fell and broke her leg two days ago, and is still in a St Louis hospital.
  • Wrote a check from my discretionary fund for a member of the cathedral congregation who is participating in the anti-hunger Church World Service-sponsored CROP Walk. 
  • Tried once again unsuccessfully to resolve my sole remaining technical difficulty from my changeover to the world of Macintosh, which is that I can't get my new laptop to connect wirelessly to the printer in Sue's office (i.e. the only one available to me). But I'm nothing if not tenacious, and will solve this.
  • Took a call--finally--from Church Publishing regarding yesterday's technical issue. The answer was hidden in a very non-intuitive place. Bad site design.
  • Worked on my working outline for tomorrow's marathon seminar (Part 2 of 2) at St Thomas;, Salem. Stay tuned for video.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Continued work on tomorrow's seminar. I believe it's ready for prime time.
  • Put some major meat on the bones of the homily I will give at Bruce DeGooyer's ordination to the priesthood on October 4 (yes, on St Francis' Day, and, yes, the sermon does mention animals).
  • Made some air travel arrangements for one upcoming trip and lodging arrangements for another. October and November will both be busy travel months.
  • Friday prayer time: Ignatian-style discursive meditation on the daily office gospel for the feast of St Matthew.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday (John Coleridge Patteson & Companions)


  • Up 20 minutes early for a treadmill workout. 
  • Began processing emails at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral, then more email processing that, to my horror, took the entire morning. It's not just the emails, of course, but their substance that takes up the time. One rabbit hole after another. 
  • Lunch at home. 
  • Attended to some details pertaining to upcoming ordinations. 
  • Conceived and hatched the broad strokes of a homily for the Sunday after All Saints (at St Andrew's, Carbondale). 
  • Prepared an unrefined draft of the liturgy booklet for the Synod Eucharist. My recent leap from the Windows platform to Mac complicated and lengthened this endeavor, abetted by Church Publishing's website, which has to be one of the clumsiest out there. I left two messages on their tech support line. One was less patient-sounding than the other. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • After dinner at home, more work on the Synod Mass. It took some time, but we cracked the nut and mastered the technology learning curve (in this case, music publishing software called Finale, which I used to work with regularly, but several updates ago).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

  • Back to a more normal routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Spent some more time wrestling with the scriptures for Proper 23 (13-14 October) and emerged with a good homiletical sense of direction.
  • Extended phone conversation with an long time friend who is one of the most well-connected people in the Episcopal Church. I needed to pick his brain about some clergy deployment issues and came away, again, with a good sense of direction.
  • Worked some more on plotting out the four talks I will give at the diocesan ECW retreat in March.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Met with Dean Brodie in advance of tonight's regular cathedral chapter meeting.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Resisted the temptation to get sucked into the black hole of technology issues.
  • Plotted the broad strokes of my homily for the Synod Eucharist.
  • Loaded some more content on to the diocesan website. (Ministries > Liturgical & Music > Sung Psalms for the Eucharist)
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner from China 1, eaten in the office.
  • Attended the cathedral chapter meeting. Dean Brodie is retiring in February, so I had some time alone with the elected chapter members to discuss the process leading to the selection of their next priest.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday (E.B. Pusey)


I look at my electronic technology that way I look at the cars I drive: I'm not much of a nerd; mostly I just want everything to work like it's supposed to, to make my life more efficient and less annoying, and to generally stay in the background and not call attention to itself. These are among the reasons I opted for a Macintosh laptop last week. It came yesterday, and I spent about four hours trying to get it as "set up" as I could, hoping I could hit the ground running this morning and be very productive.

Well ... it was a nice idea. I may not be nerdy, but I lean enough in the direction of OCD that it's really hard for me to focus on much else when my technology infrastructure is full of loose ends floating past my field of view. Today was one of those days. I made considerable progress, but the Big Kahuna--getting my Mac to play nice over a wireless connection with the HP LaserJet P2050 connected to the Administrator's desktop PC--is still putting up a fight. Got any ideas? You know where to find me.

Amid all that, I did manage to attend to an ongoing "situation" in one of our parishes, and crank out a working script of a sermon for this Sunday at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Tomorrow will be better. I so hope.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lord's Day (XVI Pentecost)

Wheels-on-the-street just before 7:30am, and on to Mattoon, where we arrived at Trinity Church at exactly 9:30, met by their ever-amiable priest-in-charge Father Ken Truelove. Presided and preached at the 10am celebration of the Holy Mysteries, adorned by absolutely sumptuous organ music rendered on what I am told is Opus 1 of the estimable Reuter organ company. The post-liturgical plenary downstairs in the parish hall was animated and earnest. I continue to be gratefully amazed at how the faithful throughout the diocese are engaging the discussion about re-tooling for church life and mission in a post-Constantinian age. It is simultaneously terrifying and energizing. Brenda and I then accompanied Fr Truelove to take the Blessed Sacrament to one of the chronically homebound members of Trinity. After a delightful visit there, we got back home just a tick or two past four o'clock.

Sermon for Proper 19

Trinity, Mattoon                                                             Mark 8:27-38, Isaiah 50:4-9


About three and half years ago, I was privileged to make my first visit to the Holy Land. On a glorious sunlit day, our group of sixteen pilgrims left our hotel on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, got into our bus, and drove northward and eastward across the Jordan River—and upward—into the Golan Heights, territory that was once part of Syria but was annexed by Israel following the 1967 war. In a mountainous and heavily forested area, in the shadow of Mount Hermon and close to the borders with Syria and Lebanon, lie the ruins of the ancient Roman settlement of Caesarea Philippi. The jewel of this site was and remains a glorious temple to the Greco-Roman god Pan, built into the side of a mountain. For first century Jews, Pan was a symbol of the “evil empire” of Rome, an icon of everything they resented about foreign domination.

So it’s against this very backdrop—and if I could show you pictures of the place you could see how dramatic it would have been—it is against this backdrop that Jesus puts his questions to the disciples: “Who do people say that I am … who do you say that I am?” It’s Simon Peter, of course—never one to keep his thoughts to himself—who at first gets it right, spectacularly right, in fact: “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God.” But then he turns around and undoes his good deed: Jesus goes on to talk about his own impending suffering and death way down in Jerusalem, and Peter objects, “Don’t be ridiculous, Lord. Quit talking that way. You’re bringin’ us down.” To which Jesus responds with startling sharpness: “Get behind me, Satan.”

Get behind me, Satan. What was Jesus really saying here? What he was probably really saying is, “You don’t know me. You don’t get it.” You see, Peter—and, for that matter, the other disciples—would have wanted Jesus to fit the mold of their expectations about what a Messiah should be and what a Messiah should do. There was a long tradition within Judaism about the Messiah, so they had very specific expectations. The Messiah would effectively be a reincarnation of David, the prototypical “ideal king” of Israel—if you will, the “father of his country.” Back in my youth, American school children were taught to think of George Washington as the “father of his country,” and were pretty much given a narrative that covered over any flaws in Washington’s character and behavior. He was the “ideal President” who set the standard for all of his successors. For first century Jews, King David—despite his flaws, and they were many—David held a similar place in their imagination, and the Messiah would certainly be someone who, like David, would rid Israel of foreign interlopers and invaders, and secure the national borders. He would be a great military and political hero. So, when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, he wasn’t “confessing” the real Jesus, he was trying to squeeze Jesus into a pre-set mold.

Here, in the northernmost extent of his travels—everything that follows is a long journey to the cross—Jesus has to deal with everyone’s false expectations, and he does so through Peter. His prediction of his own suffering and death, coming on the heels, as it does, of Peter’s confession, begins to set the record straight.

Being the post-Easter people that we are—that is, people who have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight looking back at Jesus’ resurrection and its effects—it’s pretty easy for us to judge Peter, to say, “Yeah, get behind him, Satan! What are you thinking, anyway?” But we are hypocrites when we do that. We are hypocrites because we also have false expectations about what Messiah Jesus (aka Jesus Christ) is about. We have remade Jesus into any number of false images, images of our own design.

One of the false images we might call Fire Insurance Agent Jesus, the Jesus that…you know…saves us from going to Hell. Now don’t get me wrong here: I’m not denying that Jesus is our Savior and that his saving work includes delivering us from what we might call our “default fate” of eternal separation from the presence of God. But if we limit Jesus to just being our Savior, and confine him to that compartment of our lives that we label “religion”, then we are creating a false Christ. If we don’t allow Jesus to be our Lord, the central organizing principle of our lives, then we are, in effect, preventing him from being our Savior.

Another false image that we have created is Personal Assistant Jesus. Jesus is the name we call on to make all the lights turn green so we’re not late for work, to help us do well on a test because…well…we didn’t actually study for it all that much, or to blind the eyes of the IRS to the “creative” entries we make on our tax forms because, after all, we “really” need the money. Am I denying that Jesus wants to help us? No way! But he wants to be the one to tell us where we need help. He wants to be a mentor and guide, not a member of our household staff, and if we insist on treating him like one, we’ve created a false Christ who will be of no help at all.

Or, some of us may be devoted to the false image of Community Organizer Jesus. This is the Jesus who’s all about making the world a better place, and he needs us to be his hands and feet and voice. So we get involved in the social causes that stir our hearts—and these causes can cover the political spectrum from one end to the other—we get involved in social causes, feeling very holy because we are making God’s work truly our own. But all too often we end up erasing any distinction between the Kingdom of Heaven and our political causes, and we lose both. Does Jesus want the world to be a better place? Of course he does. But God is in charge of ushering in his own Kingdom, and the moment we consider ourselves indispensible to that process, we have created a false Christ.

Here’s the thing: Our calling as Christian disciples is to be conformed to Jesus, not to conform Jesus to our expectations. This includes, of course, conforming ourselves to his cross (or, as he puts it, taking up our cross—it amounts to the same thing), and when you strip away all the other symbolic baggage that we have loaded onto the cross—good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, appropriate and inappropriate—when you strip away all the baggage, the cross is an instrument of suffering. Christian faith doesn’t save us from suffering. It enables us to find meaning in suffering, and to make that suffering productive—productive for the perfection of our own holiness and for the redemption of the world. This is what Jesus’ cross is about, and it’s what our cross is about.

This is an important message for contemporary Christians to hear, because there are voices out there that give the impression that if you’re sick or in chronic pain or are addicted or your marriage has failed or you’re going down the tubes financially, then you must be at odds with God, and it’s your fault; you’re not doing something right. Now, sometimes we are our own worst enemies; there’s no denying that. But suffering is not a sign of failure for a Christian; it is, in fact, a mark of identification with the cross of Christ. Suffering is normal. Suffering is to be expected.

And … suffering is Good News. Here’s what the Prophet Isaiah has to say today about suffering:
For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Isaiah, the prototypical “suffering servant,” a prefigurement of the crucified Jesus, knows in whom his confidence lies, and that he will be vindicated in the end. You see, suffering may be universal, but it is not permanent! Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death also included a prediction of his resurrection. Jesus was “vindicated” by the Father. We who throw in our lot with Jesus, we who take up our cross and follow him, can look forward to the same. We who are conformed to Christ in his death will be conformed to him in his resurrection.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday (St Cyprian)

Aside from a good long walk in the late morning, I spent the day at home. In addition to some pretty typical household weekend puttering, I dealt with a good bit of the backlog in my email inbox.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Holy Cross

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral. With Sue on vacation and the Archdeacon away on state business (he serves as an appointed member of the Ethics Commission), I had the Round House to myself. Tried not to cause too much damage, surprising a few people by being first up on the phones and declaring it "casual Friday" by showing up in khakis and a blue button-down shirt. No one saw me, though.
  • Spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon producing a draft of a homily for when I visit St Matthew's, Bloomington a week from this Sunday. Sometimes sermons just seem to write themselves and sometimes it's like giving birth. This was more toward the latter.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Had a good phone conversation with Cameron Nations, a first-year seminarian from our diocese at the University of the South.
  • Spoke by phone with the dean of the Darrow Deanery ahead of this pre-synod meeting this Sunday.
  • Spent some prayer time on You Tube. Seriously. There are a couple of seriously fine hymn texts having to do with the cross of Christ, set to some seriously fine music.  Holy Cross Day duly observed.
  • Laid out the broad strokes of my address to the 2012 annual synod of the diocese next month. Lots of development and refinement still ahead.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday

For obvious reasons, the bulk of my attention is focused on what's going on in the 36 Eucharistic Communities of the diocese. But I'm also aware that a great deal of important ministry goes on "in the world," and sometimes this ministry is shared by clergy of our diocese specifically as a manifestation of their ordained status. So I was pleased to spend several hours today with the Revd Mollie Ward, who directs pastoral care and supervises Clinical Pastoral Education at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. I was privileged to be able to sit in on a didactic session with her current cohort of four CPE residents, the subject being "multiple intelligence" theory. After a walking tour of the beautiful BroMenn facility, we had lunch together in uptown Normal. I came away gratefully with a new awareness of how one of our own priests is a respected and accomplished member of the team at a busy hospital in one of the key cities of the Diocese of Springfield.

While en route both to and from the Bloomington-Normal area, I conducted two more vetting interviews with potential candidates for the vacancy at St John the Divine in Champaign.

Got back to the office around 3pm. Divided the next two-and-a-half hours more or less equally between developing material for Part II of my "Proclaiming Good News" teaching series at St Thomas' in Salem and spending time with biblical commentaries by way of preparing to preach at Redeemer, Cairo on 13 October and St Stephen's, Harrisburg the following morning.

Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Spent a good portion of my evening processing email.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday (John Henry Hobart)

  • Processed some emails and planned tasks at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Worked on some of the liturgical details for an upcoming ordination.
  • Substantive telephone conversations with two members of the clergy of the diocese.
  • Reviewed the Office of Transition Ministries (OTM) Portfolio (the document formerly known as a Clergy Deployment Office Profile) of a potential candidate for the opening at St John the Divine, Champaign. Arranged for the customary telephone vetting conversation.
  • Responded to an email from a priest regarding an upcoming parish visit.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Read, studied, prayed over and mulled the scripture readings for the scheduled October 4 ordination of Bruce DeGooyer to the priesthood, in preparation for being the preacher as well as the presider on that occasion. Emerged from the process with a useful homiletical sense of direction.
  • Engaged in the same process the readings for the lesser feast of Henry Martyn, Priest & Missionary, which will be the liturgical occasion celebrated at the annual Synod Mass on October 19. Once again, the result was a useful homiletical sense of direction.
  • Reviewed the draft liturgy booklet for the institution of Fr Dick Swan as Rector of St John's, Decatur on the Feast of St Michael & All Angels.
  • Substantive telephone conversation with two lay leaders of one of our parishes.
  • Spend about half and hour adding some content to the website. (See here for the fruit of my labor.)
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday

  • Task planning for the week at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Initially processed a load of snail mail that was waiting on my desk. Some I could toss quickly; others are in the pile for later attention and action.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer on sundry administrative matters.
  • My laptop computer--which is to say, the place where I actually live most of my life--has been showing signs of ... well ... wearing out. So, by way of being proactive, and not wanting it to go dark before I'm ready, I've been investigating alternatives. This morning it was time to pull all the research together and make a decision. I'm going over to the Dark Side and getting a MacBook Pro. It's ordered. Not joining the cult, though.
  • Wrote a brief email blast to the clergy on a subject of moderate importance but high urgency.
  • Responded to a couple of emails from clergy whose parishes I am visiting soon.
  • Completed and refined my homily for this Sunday at Trinity, Mattoon.
  • Began to work on planning the musical elements of the Synod Eucharist.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Resumed working on the Synod Mass music, and completed that task.
  • Attended to some deployment issues with regard to a new list of candidates for the newly-reopened search at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign.
  • Took a phone call from the Bishop of Quincy, wherein he invited me to address their annual synod next month. I had to turn him down, because it's the same day as ours.
  • Ended the work day with some more minor email processing and a returned phone call.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Lord's Day: XV Pentecost (Proper 18)


  • A very full day: On the road with Brenda at 6:30am, arriving at Trinity, Mt Vernon a little past 9:00. Laid out my vestments, assembled my crozier, and otherwise get set up for the liturgy. 
  • At 9:30 there was a forum in the parish hall. It only took one question to get me going on various aspects of the missional challenge in central Illinois in the early 21st century. It was a robust discussion, and, on the whole, I am very encouraged by people's receptivity to my message that it behooves us, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to invent a whole new way of "doing church" than anything we know about or are good at. 
  • The Mass of the day, with two confirmations, was at 10:30. Then followed the coffee hour with a proper cake for the confirmands, and a congregational serenade for YFNB with original lyrics set to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. You had to be there. 
  • Around 1:00, people from all over the Eastern Deanery began to arrive, and we were treated to grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and assorted other goodies that were carried in. In due course, Dean Gene Tucker (doesn't that have a ring to it?) called the annual pre-synod meeting to order. After hearing reports from each of the Eucharistic Communities of the Deanery (save for Effingham, which was not represented), and transacting some pro forma business, I once again held forth on generally the same subject matter that had occupied the earlier parish forum. It felt like people were extraordinarily engaged, and for a fair length of time. I was simultaneously drained and energized. 
  • Then I had a pre-arranged visit of about 30 minutes with a cleric seeking pastoral counsel. So it was a few minutes past 4pm when we were back on the highway for the two-and-a-half hour drive back to Springfield. Some days I feel like I earn my keep. This was one of them.

Homily for Year B: Proper 18


Mark 7:31-37--Trinity, Mt Vernon

During the brief time that Jesus walked this earth in his public ministry, he was known primarily for two activities: teaching and healing. He was constantly gathering people and talking to them about the ways of God and the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was breaking into human experience in his very own person, in his life and ministry. Then, he would very often provide a concrete sign of that inbreaking of Heaven into earth by healing people of various illnesses and infirmities. This makes Jesus an immensely appealing figure because, even two thousand years later, and with all the advances in the practice of medicine that have taken place during that time, we can all readily identify with the suffering that accompanies sickness. None of us is without a need and desire for healing, either for ourselves or for someone we love.

There are times, however, when the teaching happens, not as a setup for a healing, and not as an explanation of a healing, but within the healing miracle itself. Today, St Mark’s gospel introduces us to a man who is both deaf and unable to speak. Jesus restores both his hearing and his speaking ability. For that man, of course, the significance of what Jesus did is no mystery—once he was deaf and now he can hear, once he was mute and now he can talk. We may be tempted to smile at ourselves and say, “How nice for him.” But for the readers of Mark’s gospel —and that would include us—for the readers of Mark’s gospel, this incident, this simple act of healing, is profoundly symbolic. It applies to each of us.

You and I are deaf. We are deaf to the voice of God. The sound waves are all around us, but we’re not picking them up. For many of us, it’s a matter of spiritual waxy buildup, and an occasional cotton swab—in the form of a good book, a good sermon, a good conversation with a spiritual friend—a periodic cleaning of the ear can take care of problem. For others, the deafness is more profound. In my line of work, as you know, especially while I was in parish ministry, I regularly have the honor and privilege of being on people’s “must call” list when they find out that their time in this world is drawing to a fairly rapid close. I appreciate hearing such news while the person is still alert and able to carry on a lucid conversation, and I’ve learned not to delay asking the delicate and very personal question: “How is it with your soul? How are things between you and God?”

It is at such moments, it grieves me to say, that I have seen the most chilling evidence of profound spiritual deafness. Far too often have I gotten answers like, “I’ve tried to do the right thing and live the best kind of life I can.” Or, “I haven’t been perfect, but, on balance, I’ve been pretty good.” Or, sometimes there’s genuine fear, because the person is all too aware of various misdeeds that they have so far gotten away with. Far too seldom does the person I’m with spontaneously, without any prompting, mention the name of Jesus. “God” is abstract. We can easily remain detached from “God.” Jesus, however, is less escapable. He’s a person. He invites us into a living relationship. Not nearly often enough have I heard from the lips of a dying person, “I’m saying my prayers. I’m hungry for Holy Communion. I feel Jesus by my side. I know that my destiny doesn’t depend on anything I’ve done or left undone, but on what Jesus has already done for me.”

My experience at various deathbeds has shown me how pervasive spiritual deafness is among Christians—certainly those of the “Christmas and Easter” variety, but even among those who are much more regular in their attendance at corporate worship. For whatever combination of reasons, the Episcopal Church—and, I’m sure, others as well, but the Episcopal Church is what I know—we have produced several generations of sub-Christians. One might call them “ethical theists”—that is, their real creed is “Believe in God and try to be good.” They may actually say the Nicene Creed when they’re present at the Eucharist, but the real creed that governs their lives is, “Believe in God and try to be good.” Mind you, I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with believing in God and trying to be good. Both elements are part of what it means to be a Christian. It’s just that they’re a relatively small part of the big picture. So, if that’s as far as we go, then we haven’t really gotten anywhere. Believing in God and trying to be good bears a relationship to the fullness of gospel truth as does a vaccine to the actual virus it’s intended to protect against. Let me try and put that more simply: Too many of us have been vaccinated by the gospel, which is to say, we’ve been vaccinated against the gospel. We’ve internalized a particle of the Christian faith that is just large enough to immunize us against the rest of it. We understand just enough of the gospel to make us think that’s all we need to know, and we stop up our ears; we become deaf to the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us each by name and wants to lead us to green pastures and still waters. We say things on our deathbeds that make the priest who visits us want to pull his hair out. We need to have our ears opened.

But the man in Mark’s gospel was not only deaf; he was also unable to speak. We don’t know what his specific problem was; Mark only tells us that it was “an impediment in his speech.” Well, it’s also my experience as a pastor that Episcopalians and other Christians who are spiritually deaf are invariably also—and I use this word in its antique, biblical sense—spiritually dumb. They are not able to tell others about their faith because what faith they have is developmentally disabled. Yet, I’ve also met Christians who do indeed have a lively personal faith, a real living relationship with God in Christ, and a disciplined prayer life, but who are still spiritually mute, unable to talk with others about the faith that means so much to them.

You probably don’t remember this—or perhaps never knew it in the first place—but, in 2003, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed this gem of a resolution:

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention urge every Episcopalian to be able to articulate his or her faith story beginning with Epiphany 2004; and urge dioceses and congregations to create opportunities for these stories to be told.

Now, as I recall, during floor debate on this resolution, there was a motion to strike the deadline —January 6, 2004—as unrealistic. But the Committee on Evangelism said, “No, we’re serious about this resolution; we want it to have teeth, and it it’s going to have teeth, it needs to have a deadline.” Well, what can I say? As a national church, we pretty much dropped the ball on that one. But what a wise and wonderful and practical idea it was. I’m not going to ask for an external show of hands, but I want each of you to ask yourself the question right now, “Am I able to tell my faith story?” Not your “church story,” necessarily, but your “faith story.” If asked, would you have anything to say? Could you find the words to convey your experience? If your answer is ‘No’ or ‘I’m not sure’—well, you know what your assignment is, don’t you? You have homework to do. And—according to General Convention, at least—your assignment is about eight years overdue!

I hope you also know that Father Tucker—or, for that matter, even Your Friendly Neighborhood Bishop—would be delighted to help you with your homework, if you just ask. It probably isn’t as difficult as you think. And even if one of us helps you, it’s not really us, it’s Jesus himself working through us. The good news it is my joy to proclaim to you today is that Jesus stands ready and eager, right now, today, to heal us of our spiritual deafness, that we may not simply hear, but understand, the mystery of faith, that Christianity is about so much more than believing in God and trying to be good. And Jesus stands ready and eager, right now, today, to loosen our tongues, and give us the words by which to tell the story of his love for us, and the new life that is available to all who put their trust in him. 

Our Aramaic vocabulary word for the day is the one that Jesus spoke to the deaf and dumb man to whom he ministered so long ago in Galilee: “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” We could do nothing better in our worship on this occasion than to allow the Holy One to unstop our ears and unbind our tongues, that we may hear the gospel in all its fullness, and proclaim the praise of him who does all things well. Glory be to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday (Nativity of the BVM)

  • Met with the Cursillo secretariat of the diocese and discussed some important meta-issues. I am committed to helping this important renewal movement renew itself in the Diocese of Springfield, and become a resource for spiritual vitality, this equipping us to be more effective in mission.
  • Had a couple of substantive phone conversations--one lay person, one cleric.
  • Processed a ton of emails. They always pile up when I'm away from home for any length of time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday


  • Allowed myself a slightly indulgent wake-up time, given the lateness of the evening before. Checked out of the Hampton Inn in downtown Milwaukee and on the road toward Chicago around 9:15, having partaken of the breakfast buffet.
  • Made a stop at a mall in the western suburbs of Chicago (Oakbrook) to visit the Apple store. My Dell laptop is beginning to wear out, and I'm contemplating whether I should completely join the Dark Side, since I already use an iPhone and an iPad. I test drove a 15" Macbook Pro, but the jury is still out on the main question.
  • Caught lunch at in Illinois Tollway "oasis" and continued southward on I-57 toward Champaign.
  • Arrived at Emmanuel Church around 2:45 for an appointment with Fr Alan Herbst, the rector. We talked for about 90 minutes, whereupon I head west on I-72 toward home, slowing down in the Decatur area to respectfully accommodate a raging thunderstorm and torrential downpour. 
  • Home about 5:30. Brenda and I then went out to celebrate my advancing maturity with a dinner at Pao, which features "Pacific coast cuisine" (whatever that is, and I say this having lived the majority of my adult life on or near the Pacific coast).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thursday


  • Packed for an overnight and read Morning Prayer at home.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a pastoral situation.
  • Conferred with Fr Scanlon in his role as Rural Dean for the Northeastern Deanery.
  • Met for 15 minutes with the Standing Committee just to touch base on three separate emerging concerns.
  • Got in the YFNBmobile and pointed it north toward Nashotah House, five hours away in southeastern Wisconsin. While en route, had a long and substantive phone conversation with a priest in another diocese who was wanting some pastoral guidance, and then with two potential candidates for the newly re-opened vacancy at St John's Chapel in Champaign.
  • Met for about 90 minutes with the Dean of Nashotah House, in my role as Chairman of the Board.
  • Attending Evening Prayer in St Mary's Chapel.
  • Visited with some students and staff for just a bit before heading to downtown Milwaukee and All Saints' Cathedral for Bishop Roger White's funeral. It was SRO, as you might imagine.
  • Late dinner at a delightful French restaurant in an up-and-coming "hip" section of downtown Milwaukee with Christopher Wells, Executive Director and Editor of the Living Church.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday (Ss Boris & Gleb)


  • Dropped the YFNBmobile off at the Hyundai dealer for routine scheduled maintenance; sweet hand-crippled Brenda followed me and shuttled me to the Round House.
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Cleared my email inbox. Took some determination.
  • Spoke by phone with a colleague bishop about a potential candidate in one of our search processes.
  • Met with Fr Stormer and the Archdeacon to discuss implementation details for the latest iteration of sexual abuse and misconduct prevention training materials made available by the Church Pension Group.
  • Retrieved my vehicle from the dealer, and had lunch at home, having procured some freshly fried catfish at a seafood market on South Grand.
  • Reviewed and made comments on a draft liturgy booklet for an upcoming ordination.
  • Spoke by phone with the Rector's Warden of one of our parishes.
  • Wrote a fairly detailed email to our communications people regarding some tweaks that the website needs.
  • Investigated potential air travel itineraries for a Communion Partners event in Orlando in November. 
  • Read and replied to an email that arrived toward the end of my vacation, and which required a thoughtful response.
  • Reviewed my Sunday visitations for October and made some appropriate notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday

  • Beginning-of-work-week task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with Treasurer Jim Donkin on a couple of administrative matters related to diocesan finances.
  • Had a phone conversation with Fr Roderick, chair of the Department of General Mission Strategy, in advance of Thursday's meeting of the DGMS, which I will not be able to attend.
  • Created a rough draft of my homily for September 16, which will be delivered at Trinity, Mattoon.
  • Refined and finalized the draft of my homily for this coming Sunday, at Trinity, Mt Vernon.
  • Made some substantive progress in planning the details of the Synod Mass.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Took care of some Nashotah House-related business.
  • More work on the Synod Mass.
  • Processed a couple of emails and handled some administrivia.
  • Plunged into the preparation process for the diocesan ECW retreat I am privileged to be conducting next February. Got as far as deciding on a theme.
  • Put some significant meat on the bones of my working outline for Session II of "Proclaiming the Good News 101" (September 22, at St Thomas', Salem).
  • Spoke by phone with Ann Wilt, Bishop's Warden for St Michael's, O'Fallon, regarding the details of my September 30 visitation.
  • Took my first prayerful and reflective look at the readings for Proper 23 (Redeemer, Cairo and St Stephen's, Harrisburg).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homily for Year B: Proper 17


Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Trinity, Lincoln


You may have noticed, if you do Facebook or other social media, a little slogan that has enjoyed some popularity recently: “It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.” Have you seen that? This is a reference, of course, to Christian faith, and the relationship in question here is one’s relationship with Jesus. The point of the slogan, I think, is to refocus our attention, to say, “Look, all these things we do and say that are labeled as ‘religious,’ and that often lead to bickering and sometimes even actual violence … they’re really not all that important. What’s important is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, to follow where he leads, and to live how he wants us to live.”

Is there not some obvious truth being spoken here? For Christians, for Christ-followers, is not a relationship with Christ pretty much the main thing? Can anything else really be important at all, by comparison? Do our complicated doctrines and rituals not very often get in the way, and cause friction in our relationships?

A man was once contemplating killing himself by jumping off a bridge. A stranger came up to him and said, “Friend, are you sure you want to do that? You believe in God, don’t you?”

The suicidal man replied, “Sure I do.”

“Great! So do I,” said the would-be Good Samaritan. “Look, we’ve got something in common. So, does that mean you’re a Christian?”

“Why yes, actually, I am.”

“Wonderful! So am I. Now we’ve got even more to talk about. So, tell me, what are you? Presbyterian? Methodist? Baptist?”

“Well, I’m a Baptist, I guess.”

“Fantastic! So am I! Now I have to ask, Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?”

The suicidal man took a breath and said, “I haven’t actually thought about it for a while, but, I guess, back when I did, I was kind of an Arminian.”

At this point, the would-be rescuer pushed the first man off the bridge into the river and shouted, “Die, you scumbag heretic!”

Apparently, this guy had allowed his religion to distract him from his relationship with Jesus. And, in fact, this seems to be the very point Jesus is making in this exchange that Mark’s gospel records for us between Jesus and some Pharisees. The Pharisees want to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t wash their hands before they sat down to eat. It isn’t that they’re concerned about germs—they didn’t know about germs—but they’re concerned about the religious ritual that required hand-washing before eating and they’re offended that the disciples of Jesus don’t observe that ritual. In response, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,” and then adds his own comment to the Pharisees, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” It sounds like Jesus is putting the Pharisees in the place of the Calvinist Baptist who pushed his Arminian friend off the bridge, those who allow “religion” to interfere with “relationship.”

But before we decide to honor our relationship with Jesus by pushing “religion” off the bridge, however, it might be helpful to take a look at the real root meaning of the word “religion.” Its Latin origins are a little bit obscure, but many scholars make a good case that in its literal sense, it means “binding together.” You may be familiar with the word “ligature,” which, I believe, is part of the vocabulary of orthodontists as they construct braces that “bind together” a person’s teeth. The ‘l-i-g’ at the beginning of “ligature” and the ‘l-i-g’ in the middle of “religion” may likely come from the same Latin root. So, if we understand religion properly, we know that it’s not the enemy of our relationship with Christ, but a way of cultivating and enhancing that relationship. It’s not an end itself—and this, I would suggest, is Jesus’ real point in this passage from Mark—religion is not an end itself, but it is an essential means toward that end. Without the “binding together” action of religion and religious practices, it’s difficult to actually have and sustain the relationship. If we’re trying to use the interstate highway system to get to a certain place, we might say, “It’s not about the car, it’s about the trip,” and we would be right. But, without the car, the trip would not be possible. An Olympic athlete might say, “It’s not about the training workout, it’s about the gold medal,” and she would be correct. But there’s no path to a gold medal that doesn’t go through a whole bunch of training workouts. “It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.” True enough. But the religion is necessary to make the relationship happen.

Jesus invites us to judge our religious practices by their fruits. Jesus invites us to see our religious practices—Sunday Eucharist, the Daily Office (for Anglicans, this means Morning and Evening Prayer), our daily private prayers and devotions, the reading and study of scripture, and whatever else we do that anybody might call “religion”—Jesus invites us to see these things as means to an end, the end of producing authentic virtue, the end of changing the way we act and speak to more closely reflect the way Jesus would act and speak, to produce in our lives what St Paul calls “the fruits of the Spirit” as he names them in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If our religion is producing these fruits in our lives, it is doing its job. If it does not, if it is producing, in fact, the opposite of these fruits—a list that Jesus says includes things like evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness —then it is the sort of religion that Jesus rightly takes the Pharisees to task for. As Jesus says, it is what comes out of a person that defiles that person.

It’s increasingly popular for some non-Christians (including some former Christians) these days to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” It’s rather chic, in fact, in some circles. One hopes that Christians are spiritual. We are spiritual beings and we need to take care of ourselves spiritually. But Christians are, by nature and by definition, unavoidably religious. It’s nothing to apologize for or seek to get over. It’s the religion, after all, that makes the relationship possible.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday (David Pendleton Oakerhater)

Arrived at the diocesan office (sometimes known affectionately as the Round House) in time for an 11am meeting with Kathy Moore and Brian Maves of the Youth Department. We're very excited to be planning a pilgrimage for high-school age youth to Canterbury and other holy places in England that are the foundations of our identity as Anglican Christians. More details will be forthcoming shortly, but the dates we have tentatively settled on are June 20-June 30 of 2014, about 22 months from now. We also discussed a range of other youth ministry-related concerns, and I was surprised when we finished and saw that we had consumed two hours. It didn't seem that long.