Sunday, December 30, 2012

Homily for the First Sunday after Christmas


Emmanuel, Champaign--John 1:1-18; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; Isaiah 61:10-62:3

St Anselm was a medieval Archbishop of Canterbury who was, and continues to be, renowned as one of the major theologians of western Christianity. One of his treatises was simply titled Why God Became Man. At this time of year, that’s an appropriate question, one we do well to ask ourselves, over and over again, because, even though we know the answer—in part, thanks to St Anselm—we stand in constant need of being reminded. Why do we have Christmas? Why do we celebrate the Incarnation?

Here’s the deal: Even though God loves us, and created us in His image, and wants us to share the very essence of His life and being, we, as human beings, are alienated from God. We are cut off from God. There’s a gulf between us and God that makes the Grand Canyon look like a line in the sand. We are therefore unable to enjoy the life that God created us to have. We are incapable of experiencing our full humanity. Both as individuals, and as the human race, we are at cross-purposes with God. God belongs at the center of our being, but we have displaced Him—we have displaced Him with our own ego. We have bowed low before any number of “other gods”—gods like success, power, alcohol, drugs, sexual fulfillment—the list could go on.  As we tell God in our corporate worship: “We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved out neighbors as ourselves.” Or—more dramatically, perhaps: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.” Traditional Christianity labels this alienation between God and humankind as Sin—a condition each of us is born with that inclines us to make ourselves the measure of all things, and draws us away from the love of God. You can use that label, or not. Either way, though, it doesn’t change the reality.

“But wait, there’s more.”

Not only do we have a problem—the problem is getting worse! We can’t just hold onto the status quo, thinking that, while it may not be all we would like it to be, it’s not all that bad either. The status quo is slipping away. We’re trapped between steadily rising flood waters in front of us, and a deteriorating riverbank behind us. We have no hope, unless we can find a bridge across the gulf—the canyon, the chasm—that divides us from God. And only God can provide such a bridge, only God Himself can bridge the gap. We have no power within ourselves to meet Him halfway. Something must be done on our behalf. God must come to our aid, or else we are doomed to ongoing misery in this world and oblivion in the next.

Now for the good news: God has done something on our behalf. God has come to our aid. First, He gave us the Law—a knowledge of how we ought to live so as to counteract our inborn propensity toward Sin. The Law is written in nature. The Law is written on our hearts—it’s what we call “conscience.” And the Law is written—so to speak—“in stone”—that is, God’s Law made visible in His relationship with the particular nation through whom He chose to reveal Himself—the ancient Hebrews, the Jews.

The Law reveals the true nature and extent of our condition. The Law shows us just how wide the gulf is between God’s holiness—God’s completeness, God’s purity, God’s perfection—the Law shows us the gulf between God’s holiness and our sinfulness—our incompleteness, our contingency, our weakness and fragility, the fragmented and unfocused character of our lives. The Law is like a light shining on a dirty kitchen and revealing the cockroaches. They’re still there when it’s dark—in fact, they’re happier when it’s dark—but the light enables us to see them. We’re still sinners without the Law, but the Law enables us to see our sinfulness.

However, the Law is only a stopgap. It’s a tremendous gift because it shows us our problem. But it doesn’t solve the problem. We cannot throw the Law into the canyon and expect it to form a bridge that will take us to God.  Something more must be done, and God has done it, and that’s why we have Christmas. God has thrown, not the Law, but Himself into the gap that separates us, and has completely bridged that gap. In the mystical language of the prologue to John’s gospel, we encounter our common faith that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The One whom we proclaim in our creed as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” took human flesh, human nature, and dwelt, tabernacled—“pitched his tent,” literally rendered—the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In so doing, God completely associated Himself with us, implicating Himself with the human condition.

And he did so completely. This is what St Paul is getting at in his letter to the Galatians when he describes Christ as “born under the Law.” The Law is the perfect symbol for the entirety of the human condition, because it is the vehicle by which we see that condition clearly and fully. To say that Christ was born “under the Law” is to say that, in Jesus, God is thoroughly and unreservedly incarnate. There is no room for half-measures here. He does not bridge just half the gap—or three-quarters, or ninety percent, or whatever—and expect us to make up the difference. There were those in the early centuries of Christianity who thought just that. They asserted that God only appeared to be human in the person of Jesus, that the divine spirit of God dwelt within the human body of Jesus, but did not really become one with that body. It was just a vehicle. These folks were motivated by a commendable desire to protect the honor and uniqueness and utter holiness of God. But they were wrong. Their views are now known to be heresy. If, in His incarnation, God only partially covers the difference between us and Him, then all is in vain. If God does not become fully human in Jesus, taking our nature upon Him without reservation, then the gulf remains. We are still in our sins, and have no hope.

So do you see why we have Christmas? It is utterly necessary for our salvation. We are people of hope precisely because God did bridge the gap. In Christ, God completely participates in and shares human nature and human life. “Pleased as Man with Man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” As a result of this unspeakable generosity and love, we have the opportunity to walk in marvelous light, to share and participate in the luminous life of the Blessed Trinity, the eternal life of God. If there is ever any news that should motivate us to “Go tell it on the mountain,” this is surely it! The gap is closed. Heaven and earth are joined. God has become as we are that we may become as He is.

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday (St Thomas Becket)

Generally took this as an "off" day (with the usual components of sleeping in, leisurely reading of the morning paper, working out on weights and treadmill, and running errands). Also managed to get a significant amount of reading done, which is rare and welcome. However, I did spend about an hour trolling the internet for web-based church database management software. We need to bring the way we manage such things in the diocese (and probably in a lot of our parishes) into the current century. Seriously. It relates to the words "one church" in our mission strategy vision.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Handled a small batch of emails.
  • Churned out a rough draft of a homily for Epiphany (Sunday, 6 January, at Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Appointment with Fr David Peters, a chaplain in the Army reserve and canonically resident in the diocese, though physically resident in Austin, Texas. 
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Usual weekly scanning/filing chore.
  • Produced a substantially finished set of working notes for the first of my four adresses at the diocesan ECW retreat in February. It will need some minor tweaking, but it's essentially in the can.
  • Friday prayer: Discursive meditation, Ignatian-style, on one of the daily office readings for the feasts of the Holy Innocents.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

St John, Apostle & Evangelist

  • Customary Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout. In to the office around 9.
  • Morning Prayer in the catedral.
  • Re-engaged the learning curve on our data projector, and introduced it to my new MacBook, in preparation for my 11am meeting. This was not without a bump or two, but was ultimately successful.
  • Polished an printed a working script for my sermon this coming Sunday at Emmanuel, Champaign.
  • Met for over two hours (including over lunch) with representatives of both the Spiritual Vitality Team and the Strategy Resource Team as we try to keep the fire not only lit but turned up high under our evolving Mission Strategy for the diocese. It was a very good meeting. Stuff is happening.
  • Grabbed an extra 2000 steps on my pedometer by walking down Second Street to South Grand Avenue and back, in about 15 minutes. Bracing.
  • Met for some 90 minutes with a non-parochial priest of the diocese discussing potential scenarios for deployment.
  • Put some substantial meat on the bones of a sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which will be delivered at an exotic location--the Church of Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Got home and was informed by Brenda that dinner would consist of popcorn and it would be served by the AMC Cinema and eaten while we watch the new Bond movie. I didn't argue.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St Stephen

  • Slept in just a little, and indulged an a "soft" morning. Morning Prayer in my study at home. In the office around 10.
  • Reviewed some administrivia with the Archdeacon.
  • Processed a fairly substantial batch of emails.
  • Lunch fro MickyD's, eaten at home.
  • Invested some serious prep time ahead of tomorrow's joint meeting (weather permitting) of the Strategy Resource Team and the Spiritual Vitality Team. Felt good about the result, but it consumed some time.
  • Wrote out my customary milestone event (birthdays and anniversaries of clergy and spouses) cards for January.
  • Brief devotions (Angelus) in the cathedral around 4:30, then home, where I read the evening office in my study.
  • Brenda informed me that not only was I cooking dinner, but she told what I was to cook! So I threw together some Chinese-style chicken stir fry.
  • Spent a good part of the evening prepping for my participation in the "conciliation" meeting week after next concerning the Title IV action in which I am a respondent. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Sermon


St Paul's Cathedral

As you might imagine, with the job I have, I spend forty or fifty nights per year in hotels or conference centers. From this experience, I have developed certain preferences for particular hotel brand names, and Sue Spring, our Diocesan Administrator, is aware of these preferences. One of the reasons, of course, is the loyalty reward programs that the various chains have, where I have earned Silver status in one of them, so I get a little bit of VIP treatment and two free bottles of cold water when I check in, and just a general feeling that I’m sort of club member rather than just a hotel customer—it’s the small things that count!

So, one Saturday night a couple of months ago, I pulled into the parking lot of my preferred hotel chain in one of the towns in our diocese, a place where I had already stayed a couple of times before, and, just to be sure, pulled out my smartphone to have the confirmation number of my reservation ready if I needed it. To my surprise, and more than a little bit to my annoyance, I saw that my reservation that night was at another hotel, not my preferred chain, and not even the runner-up. What gives? Then I remembered that Sue had warned me about this when she made the reservation: my preferred hotel was fully booked that night. My Silver status did me no good. Somebody else was enjoying my room and my two free bottles of water. There was simply … no room in the inn.

On Christmas, of course, we realize—that’s a very old problem. No room in the inn. Joseph and Mary didn’t have the luxury of an internet connection by which to make a reservation. They didn’t have a cell phone on which they could call ahead as they were approaching Bethlehem. There were no nationally franchised establishments with loyalty reward programs and familiar logos displayed in bright lights visible from the road. They had to walk around town and knock on doors, and everywhere the answer was the same: no vacancy, no room in the inn. So Jesus—the Word made flesh, the infinite made finite, the salvation of Israel, the Desire of nations, the hope of the human race—Jesus . . . was born in a barn. It looked like a barn. It was cold like a barn. It smelled like a barn. It wasn’t a place any woman would want to give birth.

Now this is where it becomes very plain that a preacher’s job is often to state the obvious, because you don’t need me to take the metaphor of “no room in the inn” and apply it to Springfield, Illinois in 2012. The purpose of liturgical time—the reason we keep feasts like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost or…St Swithun’s Day—is to provide a port of entry through which we may —if we are willing, if we dare—a point of entry through which we may enter the mystery of God’s dealings, God’s purpose, God’s ongoing project of saving us from ourselves and reconciling us to Him, of enabling us to experience human life as it was meant to be lived, of liberating us from fear, anxiety, evil, and death. So Christmas, in particular, offers us the opportunity to enter into the joyful mystery of God pitching His tent in our campground. This is the most central affirmation of Christian faith.” God is one of us. Let me introduce you to him. His name is Jesus. He was born in a barn, because there was no room in the inn.

So it’s Christmas, and we’re here to celebrate the mystery of God being one of us, and because we’re not in real time, but in that crazy realm known as liturgical time, church time, Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we return to our warm and well-lit and clean-smelling homes tonight, may we take a moment to remember those who are living on the streets of this city, and ask ourselves what we have done to make room for them? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we examine our consciences, and acknowledge the conflicts of our lives—the shortcomings, the inadequacies, the overblown ego that masks a desperately low self-image, our remorse for stupid and hurtful things we’ve said and done—may we ask ourselves, Why are we not tapping into the flowing stream of forgiving and healing love that God is sending our way? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we examine our priorities for the coming year, as we make our work and school and vacation plans, may we ask ourselves, What is keeping us from making a commitment to being with the Lord’s own people in the Lord’s own house on Sunday, the Lord’s own day, as a matter of routine, as a matter of habit, as a matter of discipline, as a matter of joy, as a matter of life and death, ultimately? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we look at the moral and ethical decisions we are confronted with—either every day or from time to time—as we consider our sense of right and wrong that is so easily dulled, so easily corrupted, so easily rationalized into conformity with our “default mode” of living, our pre-existing prejudices, the values of the surrounding culture, may we ask ourselves, What is hindering us from offering our minds and our wills completely to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life? Do we have any room for Jesus?

In just a week’s time, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. Though they are often broken before the last whistle blows in the Rose Bowl, it is still a good thing for us to do. I would invite you, however, to begin the process early. I would invite you to resolve, during 2013, to put your “No Vacancy” sign in deep storage. I would invite you to welcome Joseph and Mary into your life, to give them room in the inn, to allow Jesus to be born in you. I’m afraid to say it, but in most cases, the condition of our hearts resembles that of … well … a barn. But that’s OK, isn’t it? Do you have room for Jesus?
Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent

This was a pretty cushy day, as far as bishops' days go. My visit was to Christ Church, Springfield, which is maybe three miles from home--one service at 10:15, preceded by an Adult Forum at 9:10. Lively exchange there, joyful worship in the church. Home by 12:30.

Sermon for Advent IV


Christ Church, Springfield--Luke 1:39-49, Hebrews 10:5-10

When I traveled to England earlier this year, I bought some of those special plastic bags that allow you to put articles of clothing in them and then squeeze all the air out and compress the contents so they take up a lot less space in your suitcase than they normally would. The same sort of thing happens when you download software over the internet—it comes in a “compressed” format, and before you can install the new program onto your computer, you have to “unzip” it, and let its contents expand into a usable form, just like you have to unzip the special plastic bag and fluff up the sweater before you can put it on.

We actually see the same thing in nature, only in a much more complex and wonderful form. Imagine a simple acorn. It’s a small thing, kind of a nuisance, actually, if you’re trying to maintain landscaping in the vicinity of an oak tree. Yet, within each acorn is the genetic blueprint and the initial raw material for every detail of a great oak tree. An acorn is, in effect, a “compressed” oak tree that is waiting to be “unzipped” and “installed.” Lady Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century English mystic, took this natural phenomenon of the acorn and turned it into a spiritual image; she saw it as a microcosm, a miniaturized model of the entire universe, held lovingly in the palm of God’s hand.

These images provide a sort of interpretive lens through which to view a very special meeting, a meeting between two pregnant women, Mary the expectant mother of Jesus and Elizabeth the expectant mother of John the Baptist. Mary, who has just learned of her pregnancy, makes a rather arduous journey to visit her older relative Elizabeth, who is nearly into her third trimester. As Luke’s gospel tells the story, when Mary came into Elizabeth’s presence, the fetal John the Baptist did a little dance inside his mother’s belly. It was a moment of great symbolic spiritual importance.

Pregnancy, of course, is an experience that focuses the attention of everyone concerned on how a complex and unknown future is “compressed,” miniaturized, in a developing pre-born infant, which is the palpable (if not yet visible!) sign, a sort of model, of a life that will soon be “unzipped.” A parent looks at that first ultrasound image and sees a toddler taking her first step, a kindergartener on the first day of school, a Little League ball player, a teenager with his first car, high school and college graduations, and a bride walking down the aisle—all of that compressed into the growing fetus, the way an oak tree is compressed into an acorn. Indeed, lately we’ve been hearing about a “compressed” future king or queen of England, currently “compressed” in the womb of the Duchess of Cambridge.

The visit of Mary to Elizabeth, then, is that much and so much more. It is that much written in block capital letters and blazing with neon. The visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth is not just about the two mothers and their unborn sons. It’s about the future of the human race, the fate of the entire world. There’s an ancient hymn text for Advent—it’s #60 in our hymnal—that speaks of God being moved by “sorrow that an ancient curse should doom to death a universe…” The whole initiative that God takes, and which we celebrate during this holy season, is about rescuing us from that curse, delivering us from the certain doom that is ours if no action is taken. There’s a beautiful medieval carol that compares the Virgin Mary to a rose, and says “For in this rose contained was heaven and earth in little space.” And “jumping John the Baptist” is a sign—to his mother, to Mary, and to us—a sign of that recognizes and celebrates God’s gracious action on our behalf.

Now I’m going to ask you to take this mental picture of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth—this meeting that means so much more than what it literally is—take your mental image of the meeting and lay it to one side for a moment, and turn your attention with me to the epistle reading from Hebrews, and then we’ll come back and tie the two together. The author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40 these words: “a body you have prepared for me.” A body you have prepared for me. He was using that quotation to help support the intricate argument he was making about the high priestly ministry of Christ, pleading on our behalf—your behalf and mine—pleading our case before the Father as both priest and victim. But when we set this quotation from Hebrews side by side with the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, we’re able to see something quite wonderful going on here. The body of Christ is being formed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All that we understand by that expression “body of Christ” is compressed in the “little space” of the womb of a Jewish teenager from an obscure village in Galilee.

So let’s unzip the file, shall we?  What do we see?

First, we see the physical Body of Christ being formed. It is a body that will be the vehicle through which many, many people are blessed, but, more than anything else, it is a body that will be offered in sacrifice. One of the gifts that the Wise Men brought to the infant Jesus was myrrh. Myrrh is a fragrant spice, and its principal use in the ancient world was to anoint dead bodies prior to burial. So, virtually from the very moment of his birth, the body of Christ was marked for sacrifice. This is the season in which we joyfully celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God. But the Incarnation is not an end in itself. It has a purpose, and that purpose is the cross. The physical “body of Christ” fulfills its purpose in nothing other than being offered as a ransom for many. In an oblique way, the calendar of the season confronts us with that reality. Three days after Christmas is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the young male children of Bethlehem who were put to the sword by King Herod in a vain attempt to exterminate the one he perceived as a threat to his kingdom. In the midst of our Christmas rejoicing, blood is shed, and we know that the body of the One whose birth we celebrate will have the blood drained from it on our behalf.

The second thing we see when we unzip the file of Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth is the mystical Body of Christ being formed—a body to manifest and display the Incarnation until the “day of the Lord,” until the end of history. That body is, of course, the Church. In the Christian spiritual tradition, Our Lady is said to be the “prototype” of the Church, since the “body of Christ” was, quite literally, formed in her. I love what this says! It’s a wonderful reminder that the church is not a voluntary association of individuals who happen to believe the same things. Rather, it’s organic; it’s a family. Nor is the church purely optional, like we can have our own relationship with God and go to church to strengthen that relationship. No, the Church is that relationship! Our catechism defines the Church as the Body of which Christ is the head and all baptized persons are members. There is no connection to the head except through the body.

Finally, when we unzip the compressed image of Our Lady’s visit to her cousin, we see that the Eucharistic Body of Christ is being formed in her—a body that displays the sacrificial offering of the physical body and feeds the mystical body until the end of time. If Mary is the prototype of the Church, then she is also the prototype of the Eucharist. Christ is the sacrament of God; he shows us the Father, he is the visible face of an invisible God. The Church, in turn, is the sacrament of Christ, extending the Incarnation, so to speak, across space and time so that those of us who are not first century Palestinian Jews can also hear his voice and feel his healing touch. And that makes the Eucharist—the liturgy we are presently celebrating and the meal we are about to share—that makes the Eucharist the sacrament of the Church. It is in the Eucharist that the Church is most clearly and explicitly herself. We offer this Eucharist in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the one at whose presence John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb. With Mary, our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our savior. The Lord has done great things for us, and holy is his Name. 

Come, Lord Jesus. 
Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

St Thomas

  • Usual morning routine, save for a delayed departure from home to the office because I spend 15 minutes looking for my keys. Apparently there's not an app for that.
  • Devotions in the cathedral (lighting candles under the crucifix in the rear, silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, Angelus--all part of the usual pre-MP routine); Morning Prayer in the office.
  • In consultation with the Archdeacon, took care of a small but important administrative matter (prompting the Disciplinary Board to elect a President for the coming year--this, of course, is a body one hopes is never called upon to do anything).
  • Put some considerable meat on the bones of a homily for Epiphany (which falls on a Sunday this cycle; I'll be at Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Spoke by phone with my friend the Bishop of Upper South Carolina about ... well, you can imagine.
  • Made air travel arrangements to attend the spring House of Bishops meeting in March. I'm getting this sort of thing down to a system, with the aid of a nifty app called TripCase, and it's rather less time-consuming than it used to be.
  • Hand-wrote a condolence note to a colleague bishop whose mother has recently died.
  • Broad stroke rough prep for the fourth of my four addresses at the diocesan ECW retreat in February.
  • Did my weekly hard-copy scanning chores in an attitude of prayer as I listened on YouTube to a recording of a live performance of Messiah by the choir of Kings College, Cambridge under the direction of Stephen Cleobury. I will confess only here--and you'll have to take my word for it because you'll never witness it--that I do sing along with much of it. It continues to be a blessing even as familiar as it is.
  • Loaded alternative forms for the Prayers of the People for Lent and Holy Week on to the diocesan website.
  • Loaded ten more sung Psalms for the Eucharist on to the diocesan website. (This is a recurring task until they're all there.)
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday (O Clavis David)

  • Weight and treadmill workout before breakfast, but in to the office at near the usual time by foregoing reading the paper!
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Minor administrivia.
  • Wrote a letter, via email, to some lay persons who have a particular stake in a decision I have made.
  • Registered for the March House of Bishops meeting at Kanuga, a conference center in North Carolina.
  • Met with the cathedral staff to discuss details of the three Christmas liturgies at which I will be presiding and preaching.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which I anticipate delivering at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina, at the invitation of the rector and vestry.
  • Went home for lunch ... and stayed there, in anticipation of some nasty weather.
  • Investigated various alternatives for flow-chart (aka "mind-mapping") software than can run on a Mac. Found and downloaded a very promising and inexpensive solution. 
  • Responded to an email query from a friend in another diocese about a particular aspect of processing candidates for ordained ministry.
  • Took care of some routine "scheduled maintenance" in one of the personal organization apps that has become crucial and integral in my work (Evernote).
  • Evening Prayer at home, in my study.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday (O Radix Jesse)

  • Routine daily task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for my participation in this evening's regular meeting of the Cathedral Chapter. By statute I am a voting member, and it has seemed meet and right to actively share in the deliberations of the group during recent months of financial anxiety and transition. I think it is quite a significant milestone that tonight, for the first time in the memory of anyone there, the Chapter passed an operating budget in which current expenses are funded by current income. There is no more endowment and no anticipated bequests. They have worked very hard and made some very painful decisions. I commend them for their faithfulness. By the way, I am now at liberty to disclose that Fr Keith Roderick has accepted my appointment, with the concurrence of the Chapter, as Provost (priest-in-charge) of St Paul's, beginning March 1.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day (December 30, at Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Participated in an hour-long conference call in preparation for the the Conciliation conference I am attending next month in connection with the disciplinary process in which I am one of nine respondents.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Prepared (i.e. wrote, printed, signed, scanned, an attached to email) three letters to Vestries/Bishop's Committees of parishes in the Hale Deanery. (Fr Roderick is leaving St Andrew's, Carbondale to come to the cathedral; Fr Jon Griffin is, by his request, standing down from his work at St Mark's, West Frankfort; and Mother Sherry Black is moving from St James, Marion to West Frankfort.) 
  • Spoke by phone with Christopher Wells, Executive Director of the Living Church Foundation, on which I serve as a board member, though I have been a reader of and subscriber to TLC for more than three decades. The publication has improved exponentially under Christopher's leadership, and if you're not familiar with it, I heartily encourage you to become so.
  • Fleshed out, polished, and printed a working script for my Christmas homily at the cathedral (two liturgies Christmas Eve and one in the morning).
  • Reviewed the process for applying for United Thank Offering grants. We are hoping to work with and for our companion diocese of Tabora (Tanzania) in helping Bishop Elias obtain an appropriate vehicle by which to visit his vast diocese.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • After dinner at home, attended the meeting of the cathedral Chapter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday (O Adonai)

  • Weekly master task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Revised, printed, scanned, and emailed a courtesy letter to a Brazilian priest trying to get a visa to study for a semester at SIU Carbondale. ICE is a bear to work with, we have discovered.
  • Worked on, and essentially completed, travel and lodging arrangements for a trip to Charleston, SC next month. I have been invited to celebrate and preach at the Church of the Holy Communion there on January 13, and we're going to parlay that work into a very brief winter break in a warmish climate by extending the stay until the following Thursday.
  • Met with a seminarian who has roots in this diocese but is currently "unattached" formally to any diocesan ordination process. We discussed various options.
  • Finished tying together some loose ends from my travel arrangement activity.
  • Dashed down to McDonald's for some drive-thru McNuggets, which I consumed in the car en route back to the office.
  • Loaded the Archdeacon and Treasurer into the YFNBmobile and headed for the State Bank of Chesterfield, where we were joined by Fr John Henry and one of the members of St Peter's. Our task was to further the process of the diocese taking direct control of the physical and financial assets of St Peter's in advance of the dissolution of the mission structure at year's end. Regular worship will continue there, but St Peter's will become a chapel of St Paul's, Carlinville. The congregation has dwindled to the point where it is unrealistic to maintain the formal administrative structure of a diocesan mission. This has been a long time coming, and, in the end, it fell to me to make the hard decision, fully aware that there are those who are thereby angered and upset. 
  • Got back to the office around 4:00. After checking voice mail and returning a call to a lawyer who is doing some work for the Putnam Trust (which substantially endows two of our parishes, and of which I am a co-trustee), I spent most of the next hour refining and printing my homily for this Sunday (Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent

Out the door at 7:30 headed for Carlinville and the regular 9:15 celebration at St Paul's. Our aim was to get there even a little earlier than usual, as Brenda had been tapped to play the organ prelude, and she hasn't played an organ for nearly two years! It went well, though, as was always the case when she and I worked together and priest and parish musician, I didn't get to hear most of the prelude because I was busy getting ready for the service. We preached the word and celebrated the Eucharist, with minds and hearts never too far from those grieving unspeakable losses from Friday's mass killings in Connecticut. I've written a bit about that subject here. It was a particular joy to confirm four young people--two sets of siblings--at St Paul's. And the food and fellowship there is always a delight.

Sermon for Advent III


St Paul's, Carlinville--Luke 3:7-18

Have you ever been, as the song says, “late for a very important date?"  Maybe you forgot to set your alarm and overslept.  Maybe the gates went down at the railroad crossing just as you got there.  Maybe there was a wreck on the highway that backed up traffic for a mile and a half.  Or maybe you were just forgetful, or, worse than that, just inattentive to the passage of time or to how long it would actually take you to get from point A to point B.  And now you're late ... to an appointment with an important client, or to a crucial job interview, or to pick up your child who's waiting in the rain outside a deserted school, or to the beginning of a play or a concert or a movie. 

I know that when I find myself in a situation like this, I can physically feel the waves of fear and shame and anger wash over me:  fear at the prospect of an opportunity squandered, shame at being so careless as to not notice the time, and anger, really at myself, though often projected onto another person. 

We all have an important date coming up nine days from today. It's called Christmas.  We can't delay its coming—we can't stop the clock or stop the world—but we can, in effect, be "late" for Christmas, by not being prepared for it.  This unpreparedness can operate on several levels, from the trivial to the profound. We can put off shopping that needs to be done, Christmas cards that need to be written, houses that need to be decorated. We can evade responsibility for mending relationships with family members or friends that have suffered from neglect or from more serious harm. But the consequences of being unprepared in these ways are, in the larger scheme of things, relatively trivial in comparison with failing to prepare spiritually for Christmas, for failing to prepare to welcome Christ once again, and again and again, into our hearts, into the very core of the reality of who we are as human beings. We can't stop the coming of Christmas, but we can be "late" for it by being unprepared. 

But there's also another important date that we don't want to be late for, a date that we assume, at least, will come some time after this Christmas, although we never know for sure. This date is when the same Jesus Christ whose first coming we celebrate at Christmas returns to this earth for his second coming, when the one who was born to be our savior returns to be our judge. Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this Advent season, the scriptures taught us that the work of salvation—the work of rescuing humankind and the whole created order from the tyranny of sin and evil—which God began when he became one of us, taking human flesh, will be brought to completion, as surely as flowers bloom when spring comes. 
What was begun in Act I will be concluded in Act III. 

Today, on this third Sunday of Advent, the focus is on where we are, in Act II. The author and director of the play is trying to remind us of some of our lines and give some very practical stage directions. In summary, his advice is something that any Boy Scout could tell us: be prepared! Get ready!  John the Baptist is the one who delivers the message, although he's no Boy Scout, because he ignores the part in the Scout Law that talks about being courteous! Politeness and tact are not among John's virtues. Directness of expression, however, is. 

"You brood of vipers!"—another translation puts it even more simply: "You snakes!"—"who told you that you could escape the wrath that is coming?  Even now the axe is being laid to the root of the tree!" 

John is trying to shake us out of our complacency, to say, "Wake up! You're in danger!"  You are, as they say nowadays, "at risk". 

So what puts us at risk, what is the basis of the danger that we're in? Our attitude, the orientation of our own hearts, is what puts us in danger. If we consider ourselves young, then what threatens us is the attitude that this present age, this time of life, this present moment, will never end. "Act II" is all there is. There will always be another "tomorrow" to make amends, if any amends need to be made. 
Not only do young people themselves think that they're immortal, but everyone else is tempted to think it about them. That's why the death of a child or a teenager or a young adult gets our attention more readily than the passing of an octogenarian. The message of Advent to the young is, the number of tomorrows is finite—get ready for it to end. 

If we think of ourselves as old, the attitude that puts us at risk is, it's really too late, that there's no point in trying to change anything because "Act II" is just about to come to a halt. The stagehands are ready to close the curtain to change the set for the next act.  "I'm too old to ..."—you finish the sentence for yourself: learn to love someone, change houses, change jobs, quit a bad habit or start a good one. It's a refrain familiar to all of us. The message of Advent to the older ones among us is, "Christ is coming, but he hasn't come yet—there's still time to prepare!" 

The fact is, both the attitude of the young and the attitude of the old beg the question, they evade the real issue. In one sense, we all know exactly how old we are, the way a football player can look at the scoreboard clock, compare it with the score, and have a pretty good idea of what is and is not possible in the time that is left. But there is some evidence to suggest that God keeps time, not in a football way, but in a baseball way. If an experienced baseball player looks at the scoreboard and sees that the game is in the top of the fourth inning, he knows better than to assume that the game is yet young, just approaching the midpoint. Because if those clouds in the sky start to produce rain, whatever the score is now could end up in the wins and losses column after only another inning and a half. And if that same player sees that the game is in the bottom of the twelfth inning, long past the time when it "should" have been over, he knows that nothing can be taken for granted, no matter how lopsided the score. Yogi Berra's saying, "It ain't over till it's over" applies not only to baseball but to the advent of God's kingdom in history and in each of our lives.  So whether we think our game is in the third inning, with a long while left to go, or in the ninth inning, just ready to end, the fact remains, "It ain't over till it's over." It's not too late yet.  There's still time to prepare, to make sure that we're not late for the most important date we'll ever have, the date on which we, quite literally, meet our maker. 

So what exactly is required of us to prepare for this very important date? John the Baptist, in his usual tactful and diplomatic manner, has a one-word answer for us:  repent.  Repent.  Now, I would say that most of the time we think of repentance as an emotion, something we feel, namely, sorrow, regret, contrition, for something we've done wrong, some offense that we've given. But "feeling sorry" is really a rather tame, rather inadequate understanding of what repentance is. The New Testament Greek word that is translated "repent" literally means to change one's mind. Even that has a stronger meaning than "feeling sorry", but the word in question, which is metanoia, by the time the New Testament was written, had taken on the meaning of "turning" or "conversion", which is to say, the complete re-ordering and re-direction of one's life.  Someone has said that repentance is like a ship's captain giving the order, "full speed astern!" Reverse engines! 

When we see it in this light, then, repentance is obviously not a simple, immediate, one-step process. Repentance is, in fact, a three-stage movement. The first stage is the realization that one is headed in the wrong direction—morally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, in whatever way. This error in direction may be a radical one, requiring that full-speed-astern movement, or it may be very slight, requiring only a minor correction. But even an error of only a degree or two can put a vessel significantly off course, and repentance is necessary.  If we want to focus during Advent on our need for repentance, then a serious self-examination is called for. 
We need to consult the charts and check with an experienced navigator, and if we're off course, to freely admit it. This is why Christ offers us, through the ministry of the church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as "Confession" or “Penance.” The second stage of repentance is turning around, establishing a new heading, locking in a new course, and correcting the error that was revealed when the map was consulted.  And the third stage is to actually start moving in that new direction, in other words, bearing "fruit worthy of repentance", as John the Baptist expressed it to the crowds who came to hear him preach and to be baptized by him.

St Luke tells us, as he concludes this narrative about John the Baptist, that John continued preaching "the good news" all around the region of the Jordan. Good news? At first blush, certainly, his message does not sound very much like good news! But it is. The fact that, through John, God warns us of the coming end of history is good news. If your house is on fire, and someone wakes you with the news that there's still time to get out safely if you move now, if you "repent" of lying in your bed, then that person has brought you good news. God's promise is that his plan of salvation will be brought to conclusion, the time will come when peace, justice, love, and fellowship with God will be restored throughout the created order. 

But when that happens, it will also mean that it's too late to repent. It's too late to declare whose side you're on when the battle's already over. When the curtain comes down on the play, the time for actors to speak their lines is past. But, as we live and breathe, that time has not yet come. It is not yet too late. There is still time for self-examination, confession, and re-direction. There is still time to get ready, not only for the Christmas that is coming in nine days, but for the only date that we really don't want to be late for. 

Come, Lord Jesus.
Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday

Took a day trip by train to Chicago to attend the birthday party of our granddaughter Charlotte. She's four.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday (St John of the Cross)

  • Usual AM routine. MP in the (cold) cathedral.
  • Discussed some administrative/pastoral issues with the Archdeacon.
  • Read, evaluated, and responded to a tentative plan for a major conference sponsored jointly by Nashotah House and The Living Church. Can't say anything about it yet, but it has the potential to be very exciting.
  • Began work on the third meditation (or four) for the diocesan ECW retreat I am conducting in February.
  • Broke away from that to have lunch with Bishop John Roth, my ELCA counterpart. We discussed a broad range of topics, but focused on our cooperative work in Cairo.
  • On the way back to the office from lunch, I turned on the radio and heard about he massacre in Connecticut. The observance of Holy Innocents Day has been thrust upon us early this year. "Rachel weeping for her children ...".
  • Returned to working on the retreat address. The material is based on St Paul's letter to the Philippians, and I am really enjoying working closely with the text.
  • Did my initial reflective study of the readings for Epiphany, which falls on a Sunday this cycle. This will, by God's grace, eventually yield a sermon that will be delivered at Trinity, Jacksonville.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed the accumulated hard-copy detritus in my physical inbox (which is actually rather easier to manage than my cyber-inbox).
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on Isaiah 8:1-14.
  • Evening Prayer in the (dark) cathedral.
  • After some chili for supper at home, attended with Brenda the performance of Messiah (or parts thereof) by the Springfield Choral Society at the RC Cathedral. Very nicely done. 
  • Upon further reflection on the Connecticut tragedy, this much can be said--indeed, must be said: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. Today, not much more than that. But certainly not any less.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday (St Lucy)

  • As is becoming a Thursday habit, I began the day with a weight and treadmill workout (which I also try to do on Saturdays and Mondays).
  • Processed a bunch of emails while at home.
  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • In the office around 9:30, where, in addition to fleshing out the skeleton of a sermon for Advent IV (Christ Church, Springfield), I spent most of the rest of the day writing two fairly long and substantive letters (emails, actually) that come generally under the category of pastoral care--one to a cleric and one to a layperson, both in the diocese. Both addressed decisions I have made that these individuals and others have found upsetting. Both required a good bit of thought and very careful wording. It would be tempting to think that, with all the demands on my time and attention, it was "wasteful" to spend as much time as I did addressing the concerns of only two individuals. Perhaps. But I had a good feeling afterward. I felt like I was actually doing my job, for whatever that's worth.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday

  • Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Wrote a note of congratulation and appreciation to a retired priest of the diocese about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
  • Wrote a letter to a Brazilian priest who is planning to take part in a graduate program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale this spring, the purpose of which is to help him and his wife secure travel documents from the U.S. government.
  • Wrote a substantive email to a lay leader in one of our parishes regarding an emerging issue there.
  • Traded several emails with a travel agent in an effort to make flight reservations for the Title IV "Conciliation" meeting to be held next month in Richmond, VA. Two other bishops and I are representing the five others who are respondents to a clergy misconduct complaint regarding statements we made to secular courts regarding the polity of the Episcopal Church.
  • Planned and scheduled the individual tasks associated with two upcoming major projects: leading the Lenten teaching series at St Matthew's, Bloomington, and leading the regular annual retreat for priests in the Diocese of Albany this next April.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Did some mop-up work re the travel plans mentioned above.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for Christmas Eve (St Paul's Cathedral).
  • Took a quick tour of the diocesan website just to flag any areas that need freshening. It looked pretty good.
  • Posted to the website a communication I received this morning from the Bishop of Tabora, one of our new companion diocese relationships.
  • Posted to the website a series of teaching videos that was recorded at St Thomas', Salem this past August and September. Check it out: Proclaiming Good News 101.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday

  • Master weekly task planning at home, which was itself a substantial task!
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared the cathedral chapel for the 12:15 Mass, at which I would be celebrant and preacher in the Archdeacon's absence.
  • Took care of a small but highly-important and time-sensitive administrative act.
  • Spoke by phone at some length with a former member (moved out of the area) of one of our parishes in an effort to gain further insight into an emerging issue there.
  • First formal interview with an individual in the early stages of discerning a potential call to the priesthood.
  • Presided and preached at the regular Tuesday 12:15 liturgy in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from McDonald's (McRib!), eaten at home.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Sent an email related to the youth pilgrimage tour to England in June 2014.
  • Took an incoming call from the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Took an incoming call from the Rector's Warden of Emmanuel, Champaign with the news that they have successfully called an interim rector (whose name I cannot reveal here because it has not yet been revealed to the parishioners ... but I'm happy about the decision).
  • Assisted the Administrator of the cathedral in some planning for Christmas services there, where I wil celebrate and preach.
  • Refined and printed a working script of my homily for this Sunday (St Paul's, Carlinville).
  • Wrote an email to a priest of the diocese in need of some pastoral care.
  • Returned an incoming call from an old friend from seminary who is the president of the Standing Committee of a diocese about to embark on an episcopal search process, with questions about the process that Springfield followed in its most recent election.
  • Spoke by phone at some length with a current member of the parish referenced above regarding the same emerging issue.
  • Evening Prayer, short form, in the car on the way home (it was already after 6pm).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Second Sunday of Advent

Out the garage door at 7:25, gassed up, then headed south on I-55 through the mist and fog, exiting at Raymond and completing the trip to Salem via two-lane roads via Hillsboro, Coffeen, Vandalia, Sandoval, and Odin--even more familiar with rural Illinois, and wistful that these are all places where we have never had a church (though I suspect we may once have had work in Hillsboro and Vandalia). Arrived at St Thomas' Church at 9:35, ahead of the scheduled 10am regular Sunday Mass. It's a small congregation (attendance runs in the 30s), but they are "players" in the community and so were able to arrange the presence of a quite fine brass quintet to enhance our Advent worship. (I'm an old french horn player from school and college days, but haven't played since 1973. When I mentioned this to the quintet horn player, she handed me her instrument and invited me to see what kind of sound I would make. I'll only say that playing a french horn is evidently not like riding a bike!)

After enjoying a post-liturgical brunch of roast turkey, we headed up I-57, a stretch that is not part of our regular routes around the diocese), toward Champaign, where I had a late-afternoon meeting with some lay leaders at the Chapel of St John the Divine, which is currently in the final stages of a search process. Brenda and I slipped out for some dinner at one of our favorite Mexican joints in Urbana (Huaraches Moroleon) before returning to the Chapel, where I officiated (a mostly decorative function) at their Advent Lessons & Carols. It was scrumptious. 

We got home right at 11, having made an Illinois triangle.

Homily for Advent II


St Thomas, Salem--Luke 3:1-6, Philippians 1:1-11, Baruch 5:1-9

I have a daughter who was a psychology major in college, and two nieces who are currently majoring in psychology. So, while my own experience in the field amounts to one undergraduate intro course in 1969, I’ve picked up a few tidbits about what the life of a psychology student, and one of these tidbits is that, at some point along the way, you are given the opportunity to spend quality time with furry rodents with long tales—lab rats. No doubt, some college students think that rats are cute, and others think them repulsive, but they had both better keep their feelings to themselves, because part of that exercise is to learn the discipline of scientific research, and part of that discipline is that the researcher does not get personally involved with his or her subjects. The idea is to create certain conditions, and then stand back and watch how the rats respond. You set up the maze or other test of intelligence and observe how they try to solve it, or what combination of genetics or environment motivate them to try harder or be more successful. But you don’t intervene on their behalf, or point them the other way when they make a wrong turn.
           
Have you ever felt like you are a lab rat and God is a researcher? Have you ever felt like you’re constantly being tested, but you don’t really know what the purpose of the test is, or what is the desired level of performance, and it sure would be nice to get a helping hand once in a while from someone who can see the whole maze?

When we put ourselves and God in the positions of lab rat and researcher, we are engaging in a kind of theology called deism. It was very popular about 200 years ago. The most frequent illustration of deism casts God as a watchmaker, who assembles the intricate mechanism known as creation, establishes the laws by which it will operate, then stands aside and lets it run. If a spring breaks, that’s too bad. If the works get gummed up, that’s too bad. The deist God is an absentee landlord, and does not intervene, or get involved, or, for that matter, even care … once the mechanism is up and running.

The problem with deism, aside from the fact that it has all the emotional appeal of a canker sore, is that it is entirely speculative, entirely rational, and takes no account whatever of how the God in question has chosen to reveal himself to us. It reflects, not so much an inadequate understanding, but no understanding at all, of the witness of scripture or the tradition of the church’s teaching. In such a universe, you and I are the most hapless of creatures. We are lab rats in a maze, left entirely to our own devices to find our way out. No kind-hearted researcher is going to lift us out of our predicament and show us how to reach the hunk of cheese         at the end of the line. As human beings, we are left to be our own saviors, to confect our own deliverance from the fear and alienation that so often feel as though they’re going to swallow us whole.            

If you have been attentive to the scripture readings over the last several Sundays, you have noticed a consistent theme, a repeated emphasis on last things, on the end of history as we know it, when the trumpet of the Lord sounds and time is no more, when wrongs are put right, lives judged, perfect justice dispensed, and the total sovereignty and majesty of God completely unchallenged. Listen to the words of Baruch, a prophet to the Greek-speaking Jewish communities scattered throughout the Mediterranean world before the time of Christ, as he writes about a time when God’s people will be re-gathered in the holy city of Jerusalem:

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height and look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east, at the word of the holy one, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God's command. For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him. 

Does this God sound like a dispassionate watchmaker? Does this God sound like a laboratory researcher? Hardly.

Now listen to St Paul, who writes constantly about the Christian hope as flowing from an expectation of God’s continuing involvement in the actual lived experiences of men and women and children, as he raises the subject once again, this time in his letter to the Philippians:

...it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. 

Paul was convinced that this “day of Christ” would indeed come, and he wanted his spiritual children in Philippi to be ready for it, to be “pure and blameless”  when the Lord of history re-enters history, not as an obscure infant redeemer this time, but as a just and righteous judge.

And then there’s the bracing, attention-getting testimony of John the Baptist.  And when we hear John the Baptist mentioned in the liturgy, we think, “Aha! It’s beginning to feel a lot like Advent!” and the adrenaline starts to rush, because if Advent is here, then Christmas can’t be far behind … and, of course, it isn't. The whole ministry of John the Baptist is to be a sign, to point away from himself, and direct our attention to Jesus. And as the church has received John’s ministry for liturgical purposes, he draws our attention to the feast we are preparing to celebrate in a little over two weeks, the feast of the most astonishing intervention in human history that could ever be conceived, the feast of the Word made flesh, the feast of Emmanuel, the feast of God not only one with us, but one of us. Nothing could be further from the detached God of deism than a God who is so passionate about his creation that he becomes intimately involved with—in effect, joins it.

John the Baptist and the other prophets of the Advent proclaim the good news that the one who is running the experiment is not an objective researcher, but a loving Father. We are not lab rats, but children, and the mess we’re in was never intended to be a maze in the first place. The burden of being our own savior, of confecting our own salvation, of devising our own escape from the vise grip of          sin and alienation and death, of finding the path to forgiveness and reconciliation and life—that load is taken off our shoulders; it doesn’t belong to us. The one showing us the route to the end of the maze is one who             loved us enough to enter the maze solely because he loved us, and who solved it on our behalf. That’s something no laboratory researcher would ever do!

Amen.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday (Conception of the BVM)

On the road at 9am to Trinity, Mt Vernon, arriving just before noon, where, with the liturgy beginning at 1pm, we ordained Bill Howard to the Sacred Order of Priests. Once again, there was an excellent turnout of clergy, and the church was packed. What a happy occasion. The post-liturgical festivities in the parish hall were so engaging that we didn't get out of there until nearly 4, which put us home in the neighborhood of 6:30. A full day.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday (St Ambrose)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent most of the morning processing emails. There were only a few to begin with, but they kept coming in faster than I could deal with them.
  • Plotted my sermon preparation tasks between now and the beginning of Lent.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Placed a wax seal on the certificate for tomorrow's ordination. This is always a trial and error process, since we print several certificates. Applying wax is an acquired skill at which I am getting better, but it's still a matter of choosing the best result from several possibilities.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed the accumulated hard copy detritus in my physical inbox.
  • Made rough preparations for the second of four meditations for the ECW retreat in January.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After a Mexican dinner out, Benda and I attended the Illinois Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert at St Agnes' Church.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thursday (St Nicholas)

This was "one of those days." There's an emerging pastoral issue, with administrative implications, in one of our parishes that consumed most of my attention, most of it on the telephone. There was also another extended pastoral care telephone conversation with a member of another congregation. And the emails just kept streaming in. I did manage to get some work done on my sermon for Advent III (St Paul's, Carlinville) and write an Ad Clerum letter to the clergy. On days like this, I remind myself that people are not interruptions to my work; people are my work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday (St Clement of Alexandria)


  • Some email processing and task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Various time-consuming items of administrivia.
  • Met with a priest from outside the diocese seeking pastoral care in the wake of the ongoing sad dissension and division within our own church.
  • Spoke by phone with another priest outside the diocese in a very nearly identical situation.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Refined and printed a working draft of my sermon for this Sunday (St Thomas', Salem).
  • More email processing and small administrative/pastoral tasks.
  • Paid some attention to an important piece of the whole mission strategy puzzle. Planned some appropriate action items.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • In the evening, I cranked out another blog post on the South Carolina mess.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday (St John of Damascus)

  • Weekly master task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer over an exigent administrative matter.
  • Met with the Trustees of the diocese, along with our investment advisors, for a regular update. 
  • Met with Chancellor Kevin Babb to discuss some of the ins and outs of the ongoing Title IV case in which I am one of the respondents.
  • Conferred by phone with Fr David Boase, President of the Standing Committee, over a couple of emerging issues.
  • Began to process a fairly thick stack of emails.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Re-engaged the email processing.
  • Spoke by phone with a vestry member from one of our parishes regarding their search for an interim rector.
  • Wrote an article for the Springfield Current that will be published next month. It will appear on the website January 7.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Sunday

Got to "beat down Satan under our feet" during the Great Litany at St Paul's, Pekin in the morning and sing my favorite seasonal hymns while presiding at Lessons & Carols at Christ Church Cathedral, St Louis in the evening (at the invitation of the Bishop of Missouri, of course, who had a schedule conflict). I love Advent.

Sermon for Advent Sunday

St Paul's, Pekin--Luke 21:25-31, I Thessalonians 3:9-13

One of the great cinematic cliches that helps define the movie genre “western” is the arrival of the cavalry.  The wagon train has formed into a circle as a defensive measure. But the Indians outnumber the settlers and are attacking relentlessly, wave after wave. The settlers are fighting bravely, but they’re getting tired and several of them are wounded. They’re running out of ammunition, and don’t know how long they can hold out. Then, from a distance, a trumpet sounds.

An American flag appears from over the rise, and the mounted soldiers in blue uniforms swoop down to chase the Indians away and rescue the beleaguered pilgrims.  That bugle call and that flag and those blue uniforms are signs: signs of hope, signs of imminent deliverance, signs of salvation close at hand.

At least, that’s the way the story goes if you’re one of the settlers.  But what if you’re an Indian? That very same bugle call, and that very same flag, and those very same blue uniforms are signs of something else: signs of frustration, signs of well-laid plans gone awry, signs of imminent danger, signs of humiliation, defeat, and disaster. 

During the week leading up to his crucifixion, as recorded for us in St Luke’s gospel, Jesus spoke to his disciples about the importance of reading the signs of the times. 
…there will be signs…in sun and moon and stars … when you see these things begin to take place, look up … look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves, and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
People in our time and place like to read signs of the times.  Books that attempt to explain and interpret what’s going on become best-sellers.  Films about someone’s notion of the end of the world do very well at the box office. But if you read these books or watch these films or just listen to people talk, there’s an awful lot of anxiety about the whole subject. One of the most insightful “signs of the times” is a literal one—a bumper sticker I saw some years ago: “Jesus is coming soon, and is he ever…[angry].”  The image of Jesus returning physically to earth on a cloud, in power and great glory, is a sign of death, disaster, shame, and defeat for a great many, if not most, people who call it to mind. It is a source of considerable anxiety and fear for many—even many church-going Christians—and the more they think about it the more anxiety and fear they have. 

Many years ago, when my family and I were living in a rental house in California, we got a phone call from our rental agent to tell us that the owner of the house, who was living in Virginia at the time, wanted to visit and inspect his property. With sufficient notice, it was his legal right to do so. This was not a welcome sign!  It was a source of great fear and anxiety for us. It’s not that we weren’t taking decent care of the place, but you never know what people expect to see.  We cracked the whip on ourselves for several days and got the place looking about as good as it could look.  We were expecting a serious and business-like visit, at best, if not a downright gloomy and stressful experience. The signs of Mr Jensen’s coming were greeted by us with apprehension and worry. But we didn’t know Mr Jensen. He turned out to be smiling and friendly, and he had no complaints at all about the way we were taking care of his house. Our fear of his visit was misplaced, because it was rooted in ignorance.  (Now, to be honest, we did get kicked out a couple of months later, but not because of anything he saw on the visit; he wanted to rent the place to a member of his family.)

There’s a parallel here. Those who are fearful and apprehensive when they contemplate the second coming of Christ are operating in ignorance of what God has revealed about himself, about his basic nature, about the meaning and purpose of human life, and about his plans for creation. It is rooted, curiously, in a self-image as an Indian, not a settler. In the western cinematic analogy, the cavalry is Jesus, the Indians are the world, and the settlers are the church, those who have put their faith in Christ and been baptized into his dying and rising.  That us, folks!  From our perspective, the second coming of Christ is like the cavalry appearing over the hill. The signs of his coming—the bugle call, the flag, the blue uniforms—are signs of deliverance and restoration, signs of comfort and hope. Jesus said, “…when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Life lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ is marked by hopeful expectancy of what God is doing. For the faithful Christian, Jesus’ return cannot happen soon enough. Our constant prayer is “maranatha—come, Lord Jesus.” Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation.  Actually, it is Advent, rather than the long “green” season after Pentecost, that we should call “ordinary time,” because Advent is the most like real life—hopeful, expectant waiting for the coming of Christ. It is a time of hope and expectation because we are grounded in a secure knowledge of God’s revelation of himself. 

I recall a cartoon. A man wearing a crown is saying, “Earth, this is God. I’ve decided to rent to other tenants. You’ve got thirty days to clear out.” That cartoon makes an interesting point, but it’s nothing God has ever actually said. Quite the opposite is the case. To put it simply: the landlord is in love with the tenants! Unlike Mr Jensen, he won’t even kick us out to rent the place to his son, because his son already died to secure our right to remain on the property! 

What great news this is! It stirs in us a desire to please him all the more, to take even better care of the assets—our bodies, our relationships, our time, talent, and treasure—all the assets that have been entrusted to us.  St Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, expresses this desire as a petition to God that “…he may establish [our] hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”

This is in contrast to the way of the world, in which fear of the Lord’s return leads to a futile search for ultimate meaning and transcendent significance in all the wrong places. Lives are dissipated in addiction and obsession. Within western culture, our core spiritual tradition is abandoned as insuficciently exotic, and more and more of our neighbors proclaim themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Or, more innocently, so it would seem, but, I believe, more dangerously, we cling to some of the peripheral trappings, the plastic shrinkwrap, of Christianity, and bypass the thing itself. The commercialization and secularization of Christmas into “the holidays” is a flagrant case in point. We have sentimentalized and trivialized the bracing scandal of the incarnation, the wake-up call of God taking human flesh. 

Today, at the beginning the Advent season, is a good time to renounce such a paltry surrogate for the Church’s real celebration of Christmas. Resolve to be a settler, not an Indian. Resolve to be among those who lift their heads and take heart when the cavalry’s trumpet sounds. Resolve to keep a good Advent. Make time to keep quiet. Make time to ponder the mystery of the coming of Christ in your heart. Don’t just pull out all the stops into an all-out celebration of Christmas long before it arrives. Let the anticipation build gradually until it bursts forth in holy joy on Christmas Eve. This way, when the last trumpet sounds, you can hold your head high, and greet the appearing of your Savior without shame or fear. 

Amen. 
Come, Lord Jesus.