Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Eucharistic Community of St James in Marion is presently celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays at 1pm, given that they share a priest with St Andrew's, Carbondale (Fr Ralph McMichael on an interim basis). So we could enjoy a somewhat leisurely Sunday morning and still be on the road around 9:15 for the three+ hour journey. The Word was preached and the Sacrament administered and then was had a candid but hopeful discussion of the challenges this small congregation faces. The emphasis in today's gospel reading about the need for disciples of Jesus to travel light was apropos. After dinner at Brenda's favorite chain restaurant (Ruby Tuesday) in Litchfield, we got home just past 7:30. Soon thereafter I got a call from Fr John Henry, from church camp where he is serving on the staff this week, informing me that Fr Wayne Shipley, sometime Rector of Carlinville and Vicar of Chesterfield is hospitalized in Springfield with double pneumonia and blood clots in his lungs. So I went on over to Memorial Medical Center and ministered to him sacramentally. Please hold Fr Shipley in your prayers; he is in Intensive Care.
St James, Marion--Luke 9:51-62
We are well into summertime now, and for most middle-class North Americans, one of the rituals of summertime is taking a trip. Our prehistoric ancestors were wanderers, nomads, and so there’s something that just appeals to us at a gut level about packing bags and boarding an airplane or a train, or, hitting the open road in the family car. In fact, travelling is so much one our basic instincts, that the notion of a journey has become one of the most powerful and oft-used metaphors in human language. It serves as a symbol for life itself—we speak of the journey from the cradle to the grave. We also use the journey-metaphor for experiences within life: the “journey” from sickness to health, or one’s “trip” through the educational system. St Luke’s gospel makes a special point of drawing our attention to the beginning of the final climactic journey of Jesus’ life, the trip from Galilee, in the north, down to Jerusalem, where he was crucified, buried, and resurrected. “When the days drew near for Jesus to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
And as Jesus travels, on foot, toward Jerusalem, he is not by any means alone. There are those, both his “regular” disciples, and others along the way, who follow him. “Following Jesus.” This is an expression that we’ve simply adopted into our religious vocabulary, almost to the point of no longer taking notice of what it means. When he walked bodily on earth, those who followed Jesus did so physically, and, in many cases, spiritually as well. And in terms of following Jesus spiritually, our calling and our opportunity is no different than theirs. And following Jesus is not only for the chosen few, the spiritually elite, the really religious. It is for each and every one of us who has been adopted into the family of God through faith and baptism.
When Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, he sets out through the territory of Samaria. The Samaritans, you know, were ethnically and religiously related to the Jews, and precisely because of that close relation, there were sharp differences and hostility between the two groups. So it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Jesus when the advance scouts that he sent into the next town to make arrangements for food and lodging report that the natives were less than friendly. In fact, it’s safe to say that these disciples are a tad peeved at the reception they’d gotten, because their recommendation to Jesus is that fire be called down from heaven and the town destroyed! As you might imagine, Jesus not only doesn’t take their advice, but he reprimands them rather sharply. We don’t have the exact words he used, but, as far as we’re concerned, the point is clear: Following Jesus cannot be equated with arrogantly thumbing one’s nose at those who don’t. Christians are not the storm troopers of the kingdom of God!
So after sparing one Samaritan village a baptism by fire, Jesus and his followers head on down the road to the next village. Along the way a man comes up to Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Now this sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? I mean, to get a volunteer without having to go begging ... that idea warms the heart of anybody involved in church work! But does Jesus say, “Great! Glad to have you aboard —here’s a pledge card”? No. He responds rather cryptically: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus had just been refused lodging in a Samaritan town, so his point is well taken! He wants his would-be follower to realize that there’s a cost involved in following him. Common conceptions of material security—of knowing where our food and shelter is going to come from—need to be surrendered, let go of.
Now this means different things to different people. We are not all called to take vows of poverty. But we are all called to stewardship—to the realization that we don’t own anything. We’re caretakers, trustees. Every breath that we draw is on loan to us from God. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we travel light. We’re like military families who realize that, wherever they live, they’re going to yet get moved, and possibly with very little notice.
A little later, it was Jesus who was doing the asking. “To another, he said, ‘Follow me’.” That man wanted to follow Jesus, but there was something he thought he needed to take care of first. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” It sounds like Jesus kind of caught him at a bad time. Pious Jews, you know, always try to bury their dead before sundown on the day they die, and it’s considered a solemn social obligation of surviving family members to see that this gets done. So the man was not asking for a great deal of time! And this makes Jesus’ answer seem all the more ... well, cold, at least, if not actually cruel. “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Now, in high school English, most of us learn about a literary device called hyperbole, intentional exaggeration for the purpose of driving home a point. I think that’s what Jesus is doing here, and the point he’s trying to drive home is this: No other obligation can be allowed to interfere with following Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we get our identity, our sense of who we are, from following Jesus. Our status in human society—whether it’s educational, financial, cultural, marital, or whatever—is irrelevant in comparison.
The final would-be follower of Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem that Luke tells us about is another volunteer. “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus’ reply is similar to his previous one: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Even as we realize that Jesus is again employing literary hyperbole here, it’s still a hard saying. It seems to strike at the heart of the natural bonds of human affection that are so precious to us. But, again, Jesus wants us to realize the serious nature of what it means to be his disciple, to be his follower on the journey. When you or I go to borrow money to buy a house, the bank will demand a first mortgage on that property. If we default on our payments, the bank with the first mortgage gets to sell the house and pay itself off before any other creditors with liens on it. They have to line up behind the bank. Following Jesus works the same way. If we want to be his follower, we have to give Jesus first claim on our lives. Any other commitments or involvements have to line up behind and be consistent with his prior claim.
It’s always a great temptation for us to filter out aspects of Jesus’ message and teaching that are difficult or uncomfortable. After all, there are plenty of alternatives, within what he said and did, that are comforting and uplifting. But the risk we run, if we yield to that temptation, is that we’ll end up with a tame, bland, gutless religion that goes down smooth and has no aftertaste, free of any edge or bite, and therefore also free of any truth, reality, or power. Real Christianity, full-bodied Christianity, is bracing and attention-getting. It’s radical—not radical in the sense of eccentric or crazy—although the world will think of us that way at times—but radical in the literal sense of the word, which means “having to do with the root.” The faith we profess has to do with the core, the center, the root of what it means to exist as a human being. A tree, as we know, is no healthier than its root system. If following Jesus is not at the root of who we are, then we will not be able to stick with him for the whole journey. We won’t make it to Jerusalem. We’ll turn aside to feel superior to those who have chosen not to make the journey with us, or to worry about our status in human society, or to take care of competing, but secondary, obligations, and we’ll find that we’ve lost sight of him as he’s rounded the bend, leaving us in the dust.
Make no mistake: Just as there was a cross in Jesus’ future when he set his face to go to Jerusalem, so there is a cross in the future of those who would follow him on his journey. But Jesus himself is with us every step of the way, there’s also a crown on the other side of the cross, and what an adventure it is! I have decided to follow Jesus ... no turning back, no turning back. Amen.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Usual leisurely Saturday morning. Long, brisk walk of about 75 minutes. Took care of of repeatedly-delayed (because they're never urgent) personal organization chores (cleaning out my Downloads folder and refreshing/reorganizing the contents of my Evernote account), and made progress on my "aspirational liturgical customary" for the diocese.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
- Customary Thursday morning workout ... treadmill only; no weights until I feel more secure about sternum healing.
- Morning Prayer in the office.
- Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House.
- Prepped for a PM phone conversation from a fund raising firm consulting with the Diocese of Jerusalem on a potential ambitious capital campaign--taking the pulse of all their potential "stakeholders." Preparation consisted of studying their draft "case statement."
- Took a phone call from Fr David Boase in his capacity as president of the Standing Committee.
- Met with Fr Gene Tucker wearing his Dean of the Eastern Deanery hat, along with the senior warden's of St Thomas', Salem and St John's, Centralia regarding near-to-long term clergy deployment issues in those two Eucharistic Communities.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Took the scheduled phone call re Diocese of Jerusalem.
- Attended to some "elections and appointments" administrivia.
- Wrote notes to clergy and spouses with "milestone events" in July and early August.
- Took care of a personal organization "scheduled maintenance" chore.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
(I took an extra day off this week so Brenda and I could attend our daughter-in-law's performance at Millennium Park in Chicago on Monday night. Angela is a budding country singer and songwriter, and our son Jordan plays slide guitar in her backup group.)
- Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Attended to a few items of administrivia that were waiting on my desk , then buckled down to processing a quite full email inbox. Tried to keep up with breaking developments in the U.S. Supreme Court at odd moments.
- Met with Randy Winn (Trinity, Mt Vernon) in his capacity as stewardship chair for the diocese. We discussed a plan for revitalizing stewardship education in the parishes, and the possibility of a diocesan capital funds campaign at some point.
- Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
- Resumed processing emails, finishing mid-afternoon.
- Refined and printed a working script for this Sunday's homily at St James', Marion.
- More small but important administrative matters.
- Brief bits of Youth Department and Nashotah House work.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
I have a very soft spot in my heart for the community of Cairo and the Church of the Redeemer there. In terms of blight and devastation, Cairo is a microcosm of Detroit and East St Louis ... on steroids. It was once a thriving center of river commerce, situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was considered so strategically important by President Lincoln that he sent Union troops there to secure it against Confederate sympathizers among the local populace; as the crow flies, Cairo is closer to New Orleans than to Chicago! Now, the downtown is abandoned, with sinkholes in the streets. East census records more lost population. The majority of those who live there are in poverty, and there is practically no tax base; even the Alexander County sheriff had his rolling stock repossessed for inability to make payments. Real estate is essentially non-marketable. There isn't even a McDonald's because the labor pool is considered inadequate.
Redeemer is arguably one of the more beautiful church buildings in the diocese, redolent of more prosperous days when a solid Angl0-Catholic piety took root there and flourished. There is only one completely reliable Episcopalian communicant remaining, along with about seven others who are hit and miss. They worship with a handful of Lutherans in whose building the air-conditioner no longer works, so they are at Redeemer every Sunday during the summer. So there were 18 in the room this morning for the Eucharist, including YFNB, their regular supply priest, his wife, and the Lutheran lay minister from Paducah, KY who takes care of them on the off weeks. One of those was a toddler who was baptized earlier this year--the first baptism at Redeemer since 1997.
I don't have a magic bullet for those people and that church. I tried to bring them a word of hope this morning, even as Jesus brought a word of hope to "the country of the Gerasenes" by ministering powerfully to the man who hosted a pack of demons who, through him, held the whole town hostage. Please hold Cairo and Redeemer (and the people of Emmanuel Lutheran) tightly in your prayers.
Redeemer, Cairo--Luke 8:26-39
We have a really interesting gospel story this week—interesting as in “strange.” Jesus and his disciples make their way by boat to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is foreign territory for them. Their normal stomping grounds are west and north of that oblong lake. This is a Gentile area, not part of the land dominated by Jews like themselves. Put simply, they were in the wrong neighborhood, in what they would have considered a dangerous and unsavory neighborhood.
The minute they stepped out of the boat, not in a city or town, but in what amounted to a rural cemetery, they encountered a crazy man running around with no clothes on. It turned out he was demon-possessed—not just by one demon, but by a whole horde of demons, such that their collective name was “Legion.” The people from the nearby town were afraid of this guy and tried to keep him chained up, but he kept breaking free from the chains—as well as his clothes—and wandering off out of town into places like this cemetery, where he just hung out around the graves.
I can’t say whether Jesus was afraid of Legion—we’re not given that information—but I can say that he felt great compassion for this man. Here was a human being who, through no choice or fault of his own, was enslaved in a horrible and cruel way; his life had been effectively ruined as long as this pack of demons was in control of his body. So Jesus did what Jesus customarily did whenever he encountered human suffering, particularly Jesus as he is portrayed for us in St Luke’s gospel: He cast out the demons and restored the man to wholeness and sanity.
But then the plot takes another bizarre turn. Just before Jesus casts out the demons, they beg him not to just send them off into the ether, but to let them transfer to a nearby herd of pigs. He grants their request, whereupon the pigs immediately go berserk and run off a cliff into the lake and drown, and what we’re supposed to infer from that is that the demons all died with the pigs, so Jesus pulled a fast one on them, demonstrating his utter superiority to all the forces of Evil.
Then the people from the nearby town show up, and they see the formerly deranged man, who had for so long been such a source of heartburn to them, fully clothed and in his right mind and carrying on a conversation with Jesus. Now, we might expect that they would be relieved and grateful. That would be the logical response. But they’re not. They’re as nervous and afraid as ever, and they plead with Jesus to go back where he came from ASAP. They weren’t happy about their status quo before Jesus arrived, but at least it was familiar, and they knew what to expect. Now Jesus has completely shaken things up, and it never occurs to them that “different” in this case might actually translate into “better.”
Of course, Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and the people on that side of the Sea of Galilee were Gentiles. So there were a couple of things going on symbolically that Jews, like many of the first readers of Luke’s gospel, would have found at least interesting and probably quite encouraging, but just confused the heck out of Gentiles. The setting for this incident is a cemetery, a graveyard. And nearby is a herd of pigs. To Jewish sensibilities of the time, these were both highly offensive conditions, symbolizing every sort of four uncleanness imaginable. For us the cultural equivalent might be a sewage treatment plant next to a rat colony. So what this means is that Jesus is taking the offensive. He is going right into the belly of the beast to do battle. He’s not waiting for Evil to come to him; he’s bringing the fight to Ground Zero of Evil—a graveyard next to a herd of swine. And right there, at symbolic Ground Zero, Jesus wins. Jesus is triumphant. Jesus conquers the powers of darkness right on their own home field. The spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God—everything that we renounce when we’re baptized and when we’re confirmed—are cast out of us by Jesus just as he cast the legion of demons out of that man on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
My friends, is it too much of a stretch to understand Cairo and the surrounding area as symbolically similar to the territory of this deranged man whom Jesus delivered from horrible oppression? Cairo has been a place of great beauty; I’ve driven through some of the old neighborhoods of stately and elegant homes. Cairo has been a place of great strategic importance, and a place of great vitality. The evidence of that importance and vitality can still be seen in the Custom House museum. But, in more recent decades, that beauty and importance and vitality have all faded, and been eclipsed by the shadow of death. It has come to mean for many what that graveyard next to a herd of pigs meant for Jews 2000 years ago, a symbol of decay and despair.
Jesus’ message to the people in the “country of the Gerasenes,” as Luke refers to it, was one of hope and deliverance. The demon-possessed man wasn’t the only one oppressed by the legion of demons who inhabited his body. Through that man, the demons held the whole community hostage by enslaving them to fear. Jesus gets out of a boat and says, by his actions, “You don’t have to live this way anymore.” He offered the liberation of a demoniac as a down payment on that hope of deliverance. It was a thoroughly encouraging act. But the local people would have had to change their perspective in a number of important ways in order to see that encouragement. They were not able to do that. They recognize the mystery and the power of what Jesus has done, but they cannot make a place for it or accommodate their lives to it. So what they do is just invite Jesus to leave. Is that not simply heartbreaking? The one who offers them hope, the one who is their only hope, they run out of town.
My beloved brothers and sisters, I know I don’t live here, so I can appreciate that some of what I might say might ring a little hollow to those of you who do. But I’m fairly certain that if God had become incarnate in southern Illinois in our time, rather than in Palestine two millennia ago, Cairo would be on his itinerary. Jesus would show up in Cairo with a message of hope and encouragement, and with some act of power that would serve as a down payment on that message. But wait: Jesus is going to show up bodily in Cairo. Not in a body with feet and hands and elbows, but, a few minutes from now, at this altar, as we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and that offering is returned to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ, present in our hands and on our lips and in our souls, infusing us and sustaining us with the very deathless life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is showing up in Cairo this morning with a message of hope and encouragement, and our invitation is to welcome him, to not make the same mistake as the Gerasenes made and ask him to go away, but, rather, to invite him to stay for a while. And in so doing, we open ourselves to the grace that enables us to be Jesus in Cairo, to ourselves be symbols of hope and deliverance in this broken place. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Out the door with Brenda at 6:30am, headed for Toddhall, the retreat center in Columbia (near Belleville). Arrived in time to join the ongoing Cursillo #31, where I gave the scheduled talk on the Sacraments, which took about an hour, after which I fielded questions for about 30 minutes. Then we adjourned to the chapel, where I presided and preached at the Mass for St Alban's Day. After lunch, Brenda gave the next talk, on "Action." It was splendid. We then drove into St Louis, where I delivered her to the Amtrak station, where she caught a 3:05 train northbound back to Springfield. Meanwhile, I headed east on I-64, first getting snarled in construction traffic, opting for surface streets instead, and traversing some of the most devastated areas of East St Louis before reconnecting with I-64 past the construction. Between there and Mt Vernon, I was under a violent thunderstorm, dumping barrels of rain. I got away from it as I turned south on I-57 toward Marion, my destination ahead of tomorrow's visit to Redeemer, Cairo. Had dinner at the renowned 17th Street Bar & Grill, after which I tried to see a movie, but the theater was jammed, so I chilled out back at my room at the Hampton Inn.
Friday, June 21, 2013
This was a day of travel ... with lots of waiting in airports ... first in Richmond because the "van full of bishops" got us to Richmond International two hours before my flight time ... then in Atlanta because my flight to Bloomington was delayed an hour and a quarter due to some mechanical issues on the aircraft. We landed in Bloomington at 6pm and I was home around 8:00.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Last full day at the Living Our Vows conference for bishops in their first three years. The morning was devoted to finishing our "critical incident" reports in small groups. This is an immensely valuable exercise, both for those giving the reports and those giving the feedback. Third-year bishops (my "Class of 2011" plus the Bishop of Cuba, which is an extra-provincial diocese) spent the afternoon with another academician in the field of "leadership studies" (usually nested in university business schools) learning about "complexity leadership" (having done "adaptive leadership" two years ago and "transformational leadership" only yesterday. I found the material very stimulating, but I'm kind of a theory wonk anyway. The world and the culture--which is to say, the environment in which the church pursues her mission--is changing and changing rapidly. If we're on our game, we have an opportunity to not only skate ahead of the puck, but to stake out the territory that attracts the puck. Before dinner we celebrated the Eucharist. Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina is guaranteed to be an unforgettable preacher. Tonight's takeaway line: "The resurrection is real, but it's not obvious." Our mission is to manifest it, to make it obvious.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Still at College for Bishops "Living Our Vows" conference in Richmond, VA. Third-year bishops spent the morning with Bob Bottoms, retired president of DePauw University and an active Episcopal layman, speaking with us on the subject of "executive decision-making with a moral compass." Challenging. The afternoon was with Professor Matthew Sheep of the business school at Illinois State University, who distributed and discussed with us the results of an extensive leadership style survey we had all taken online. Copious personalized results and analysis provide a lot to chew on. After dinner I had a brief one-on-one with Prof. Sheep, and then joined a plenary on the topic of mission in a post-Christendom world (a subject dear to our hearts in the Diocese of Springfield).
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Still at the College for Bishops "Living Our Vows" conference. We spend the morning in small groups sharing "critical incident" reports and receiving feedback from our peers. This is a valuable exercise. For my Class of 2011, we devoted most of the afternoon session to planning how we're going to extend the benefits of the Living Our Vows program after we "graduate" (this is our third and final residency week). We have made plans to get back together on our own for similar five-day stretches in 2014 and 2015. We have a great deal of cohesion as a class and I feel very blessed by these peer relationships. In the evening, Bishop Nick Knisely of Rhode Island, along with his communications officer Ruth Meteer, led us in a splendid seminar on the use of social media by bishops and dioceses. Lots of good ideas and "best practices" to keep in mind. I'm generally kind of proud of the leanness of our staff at the Diocese of Springfield, but I do find myself having "communications officer envy" tonight.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Up at 4am ... on the road to Bloomington at 4:45 en route to a 6:50 air departure. Via Detroit, landed in Richmond, VA a litte before noon (eastern time) and traveled by shuttle bus to the Diocese of Virginia's conference center, Roslyn. Joined here by the bishops of the "classes" of 2011 (mine)m 2012, and 2013 for the last (for me) of three week-long residency programs called Living Our Vows (aka "Baby Bishops' School"). This afternoon and evening were pretty much devoted to "check in"--a process by which members of a group talk about what's been going on in their lives, personally and professionally, since the group last met. We did this by class, and the Class of 2011 is both large (13) and loquacious. Of note here is the value of peers simply being with one another. As close as we are to those who share our lives and ministries on a daily basis, nobody "gets it" quite as much as another bishop. This is not to say that there isn't some valuable content on these occasions, but merely to emphasize that what takes places informally between the formal sessions is just as important.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
It was the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost across the Episcopal Church--Proper 6 in our lectionary cycle--except in churches under the patronage of St Barnabas, which had the option of keeping their patronal feast day on the Sunday following the feast, which was last Tuesday. We exercised that option today at St Barnabas', Havana, a town that sits on the east bank of the Illinois River about 50 miles NW of Springfield. It's a small church community, but our worship and fellowship had a great deal of vitality. I was blessed by being among them.
On June 16, my visit was to St Barnabas', Havana, which took the opportunity to observe its patronal feast day, transferred from June 11. The lectionary text on which the sermon is based is Acts 11:19-30; 13:13, with a brief allusion to Matthew 10:7-16.
We are all no doubt familiar with the expression “think outside the box.” It’s so familiar it’s actually a bit of a cliché. It refers to some default mental behavior that we all engage in when we’re trying to solve a difficult problem—that is, we confine our thinking to certain conventional, established, tried-and-true pathways. By restricting ourselves in that way, by keeping ourselves “in a box,” we stifle creativity, and simply don’t see some potential solutions to our difficult problem.
Churches—at any level: local parish, diocese, national church—are certainly not immune to “inside the box” thinking. It’s particularly easy, I think, for church people to get very attached to the familiar infrastructure of our church experience—certainly highly symbolic things like the altar area, but even things that are not all that significant: carpets, drapes in the parish hall, exterior landscaping, the color of the roof tiles. We also get attached to infrastructure that is invisible and institutional: terms like “vestry” and “warden” and “standing committee” and other expressions that only an Episcopalian might know. And in our various attachments to objects and processes and words that are familiar to us, it’s distressingly easy for us to lose sight of our underlying mission and purpose, which is to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus and to announce the inbreaking kingdom of God. Church people in general and Episcopalians in particular are very prone to confine their thinking to the dimensions of the box that they perceive.
The first generation of Christians certainly had a “box” to restrict their thinking; it was the box of Judaism. Many of the challenges they faced grew from the fact that they felt thoroughly Jewish, yet faced growing resistance from the leaders of the Jewish establishment in their proclamation of the risen Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. So they eventually realized, certainly by the end of the first century, that the box of Judaism didn’t have room for them anymore, so that had to invent themselves afresh, to “think outside the box,” with lots of trial and error, to be sure, but also lots of freedom and flexibility when it came to being creative and innovative.
A fellow named Barnabas, a good Jew who was also a disciple of the risen Jesus, is a shining example for us of nimbleness and out-of-the-box thinking. In the pages of the Book of Acts, we se him re-inventing himself several times:
First, Barnabas is an emissary and an investigator. When the Christians in Jerusalem, which was mostly all Christians at that time, scattered to outlying areas during the persecution that followed the martyrdom of Stephen, some of these took refuge in Antioch, a Gentile city in Syria, and some of the Gentiles there subsequently became Christians, which was very much an outside-the-box notion. When word of this reached the church leaders in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch and find out what was going on, and, if necessary, do some remedial instruction. Barnabas went, and found the whole situation to be generally encouraging, and had a wonderful time with the Jewish-Gentile Christian community in Antioch. Perhaps we would do well to ask ourselves, in light of this, where is our “Antioch”? Do we know other Christians whose ways are different from ours, whose ways we’re not sure we trust? And then, do we look for Barnabas among us? Do we look for someone who can be an emissary to those other, strange, Christian communities, someone who can build a relationship with them?
Later in on Barnabas’ ministry, he became a recruiter and strategizer. When nobody else would have anything to do with Saul of Tarsus—the one whom we know as St Paul—because of Saul’s reputation as a persecutor of the Church prior to his conversion, Barnabas reached out to him and lured him into a more active ministry, a more visible apostolate. Barnabas thought outside the box and recognized Paul’s raw gifts; he saw Paul’s potential for the mission of the gospel. Here is an invitation to ask ourselves whether we are allowing fear to confine our thinking to a box. Are there those whom we fear, perhaps because of hurtful things they have done to us in the past, and whom we would therefore prefer to avoid? Might these people whom we fear have gifts for ministry, gifts that could be put to use for the cause of the gospel, that we are thereby not seeing? Where is Barnabas? Who will seek them out and recruit them?
While Barnabas and Saul were in Antioch, the Book of Acts tells us that they spent their time and energy teaching the people there, the new Gentile Christians. Teaching is such a vital ministry for the health of the Church, and I’m afraid we don’t have enough of it, due not only to a shortage of teachers, but to a shortage of learners as well, a shortage of people who are willing to patiently be taught, willing to be formed ever more deeply in the knowledge and love of God. How might we become more open to—indeed, hungry for—good, solid teaching, either as givers or receivers? Do we allow Barnabas the Teacher to live among us, as he lived among those in Antioch?
Later on, there was a severe famine in the eastern Mediterranean area that had a particularly adverse impact on the geographic heart of Christianity at the time, Jerusalem and the surround region of Judea. So the church in Antioch took up a collection on behalf of the Judean Christians. And whom did they entrust with these funds, to deliver them to the church leaders in Jerusalem? You’re right, Barnabas. So Barnabas added “relief bringer” to his résumé. Need still abounds. Are we eager to put Barnabas to work, bearing our gifts to those whose need exceeds even our own, the poorest of the poor?
Next up: Barnabas became a missionary. The Antiochian church, having listened to the Holy Spirit, laid hands on Barnabas an Paul and commissioned them to carry the Good News of God in Christ to the rest of the Gentile world. For us, today, we don’t have to send Barnabas very far. The mission field is all around us, right in our own neighborhoods. So, do we know where our unchurched neighbors are? Do we know, perhaps, where there are pockets, concentrations, of people right here in Mason County who have no relationship with any church? Do we know where their pain and anxiety come from? Do we know what keeps them up at night worrying? Have we considered how Jesus might want to help them through us? Are we ourselves called to be Barnabas?
Finally, Barnabas’ parting shot was just that … a parting shot. He disappeared. As they were about to set out on what would have been their second missionary journey together, Barnabas and Paul had a serious disagreement that they simply could not resolve. So Paul chose Silas as his new sidekick and the rest of the Acts is about them. Barnabas we never hear from again. He faded from the scene. Are there moments when we need to have the grace to fade from the scene? When the time comes—not before, but when—are we willing to stand aside and let the limelight fall on others? In that moment, Barnabas, whose very name means “son of encouragement,” stands beside us, providing courage.
My friends, the mission of the gospel flourishes when Christian disciples, like Barnabas, respond to changing circumstances with courage and nimbleness, when we allow ourselves to think and act outside the box. This means traveling light, as Jesus instructed the apostles whom he sent on a mission trip. It means thinking outside the box, sitting loose to our habits, our buildings, our personal preferences, our familiar ways of doing things, all for the sake of keeping the main thing the main thing. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Friday, June 14, 2013
- Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
- Called a London hotel to finalize arrangements for my short August trip.
- Took care of some business related to "Elections & Appointments."
- Did some last minutes prep in front of an afternoon conference call.
- Started drafting a text for my sermon on June 22 (Proper 7 at Redeemer, Cairo).
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Resumed work on the Proper 7 sermon.
- Chaired a scheduled 2pm meeting, via conference call, of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees Executive Committee. It was a jam-packed agenda, and the discussion was animated at times, but I believe we did good work.
- The meeting broke up at 4:10. I made a couple of short follow-up notes to myself, and sent an email, but was otherwise completely drained. My introversion is taxed by such experiences.
- Friday personal prayer: lectio divina on tomorrow's Old Testament reading in the Daily Office--Joshua and Caleb getting the hagiographic treatment in Ecclesiasticus.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- After grilling burgers on the Big Green Egg, and consuming said burgers, I finished the Proper 7 sermon draft, and put some meat on the bones of a homiletical outline for Proper 8 (St James, Marion).
Thursday, June 13, 2013
- I began the day with my customary weight and treadmill workout, which meant that I wasn't in at the office-cathedral complex until a little past 9:00.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Refined and printed a working script for this Sunday's homily at St Barnabas', Havana.
- Printed, signed, scanned, and emailed some documents related to the Putnam Trust.
- Sent an email in connection with the "elections and appointments" effort, part of the overall run-up to Synod in October.
- Lunch at home--leftover beef stir-fry.
- Worked on arranging lodging in London for a brief (less than a week) trip I will be joining in August.
- Prepared and emailed a draft agenda for a meeting of the Nashotah House Trustees Executive Committee I will be chairing by conference call tomorrow afternoon.
- Sent another "elections and appointments" recruiting email.
- Drafted a report to the full board of The Living Church Foundation on behalf of a small subcommittee to which I was appointed in April.
- Printed, signed, scanned, and emailed consent forms for the Diocese of Massachusetts to elect a Bishop Coadjutor and the Diocese of Maryland to elect a Bishop Suffragan.
- Wrestled some more with the readings for Proper 14 (August 11 at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel) and emerged with a central message statement, which was the object of the exercise.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- After dinner, I spent about an hour and a half plotting sermon preparation for the fall--September through November.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Up in time for a 7am breakfast with old friend Bishop Ed Little (Northern Indiana). The Province V bishops reconvened an hour later. We heard reports from two bishop members of the Executive Council, the co-chair of the House of Bishops Planning Committee, a member of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, and talked about various pastoral responses to some emerging phenomena in church and society. With extremely severe weather forecast for the Chicago area in the afternoon, nobody complained when we adjourned at 10:30. I caught the hotel shuttle to the airport, hopped a Blue Line CTA train again, and arrived at Union Station shortly before noon, hoping to trade in my ticket on a 5:15 Lincoln Service departure for the 1:45 Texas Eagle. My wish was granted, which meant that I was back in Springfield by 5:30 rather than 8:45.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Got up early and caught the 8:32 Amtrak departure from Springfield to Chicago. With wi-fi on the train now, and I can actually be productive, and I was, even quietly participating in a scheduled conference call (of the sort where I really didn't have to say very much). Negotiated local transit and arrived at the Sheraton O'Hare in time for the lunch that began the semi-annual meeting of bishops from Province V (fifteen dioceses in the upper midwest). We are meeting concurrently with the Executive Board of Province V, so we joined them for an hour of discussion around new models of supporting ministry networks in the province. In our own time together, we covered the upcoming merger of the Diocese of Quincy into the Diocese of Chicago, the recently completed (but as yet unadjudicated) litigation in the territory of the Diocese of Quincy, and sundry other concerns. We continue tomorrow. In the evening, I caught a Blue Line L train to Logan Square and stopped in at the opening reception for an exhibition featuring some of my son Jordan's work.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Rose at a comfortable hour in our Joliet hotel room, enjoyed a very nice complimentary breakfast, and arrived at St Paul's, Pekin a comfortable 35 minutes prior to the 11am Eucharist. Fellowship in Word and Sacrament with the people of St Paul's, then had a stimulating time with them after coffee hour sharing the Seven Marks of Discipleship. Got home a little past 2:30 and indulged in a nice nap.
St Paul's, Pekin--Luke 7:11-17
We can’t read very much of the Bible, particularly the gospels, without running into materials that we would label as “miraculous”—things that happen that are outside our expectations of the way the universe naturally behaves: Talking animals, water turning into wine, people who have been blind from birth suddenly being able to see, people who have been crippled from birth suddenly being able to walk, and people whose hearts have stopped beating and whose lungs have stopped breathing and whose bodies have assumed the temperature of the air around them suddenly sitting up and carrying on a conversation, looking quite normal. When we encounter such stories, one possible response is to be skeptical, and insist that they were made up from whole cloth by charlatans bent on deceiving people for their own gain. We can decide not to take them literally, and assign them a merely symbolic meaning. The one thing we are sure not to do is say to ourselves, “Of course. That sort of thing happens all the time.”
What most of us are stuck with, then, is Door #3. We don’t want to be unbelieving skeptics, but we do want to be realistic. So we compromise: Miracles happened in Bible times, but they don’t happen in our time. Not very often, at any rate. Certainly not routinely. We come to church on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, and we hear about Jesus stumbling onto a funeral procession. He was a stranger in town; he didn’t even know either the dead guy or his mother, a widow who had just lost the only other member of her family. But Jesus is so moved by the occasion, he has such compassion on the woman, that he first tells the woman, “Don’t cry,” and then walks up to the stretcher on which the man is being carried to his grave. He says to the body, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” whereupon the deceased man’s heart resumes beating, his lungs reinflate, normal color returns to his face, and he sits up on his own power and starts talking with those around him. And when we hear this story some 2000 years later, we may shed a tear or two, because we love happy endings, and we love that fact that this man was restored to life, and that his mother’s grief was assuaged, and we admire Jesus so much because of his compassionate heart.
But we’re also envious. We’re envious of the widow of Nain and of her son, and everyone else who was healed by Jesus’ compassionate touch or compassionate words. We’re envious because they got to see Jesus with their naked eyes, they got to feel his skin on theirs, they were close enough to feel the warmth of his breath. He was part of their ordinary sensory experience. We have to be content with reading about him in the pages of scripture, with hoping that he might hear and answer our prayers, but not being able to look straight into his eyes and beg. We feel deprived. Our sense of deprivation stems from the fact that we do not have ordinary sensory contact with the living Christ. His incarnate body is no longer in our world; Jesus lives, but he doesn’t live in our sphere of reality. And since we cannot see and hear and touch Jesus in the same way that those whom we envy were able to see and hear and touch him, our minds start wandering in all sorts of unhelpful directions, and, before we know it, we start to question whether God cares as much about us as he did for them. Now we’re really in a dither, and it feels like we’re on the verge of joining the skeptics who think all miracle stories are just a bunch of hogwash.
Perhaps, at this point, a little bit of basic theological education would be helpful. In the letters of St Paul, in several places, we run into the expression “body of Christ” in reference to the Church. That’s not an unfamiliar phrase to most Christians. It gets used in sermons and articles and casual conversation so frequently that we scarcely give it a second thought. But, perhaps because of the very familiarity of the term, I’m afraid our tendency is to take it as a metaphor, as a figure of speech, when, in fact, it would be more helpful if we understood it literally. The Church is not just like a body; it is a body. It’s not just like the Body of Christ; it is the Body of Christ. The Church is the extension of the incarnation of God in Christ into time and space, into our time and our space. Through the organic life of the Church—through the reading and study of scripture, through the sacraments, through the liturgy, through the historic succession of ordained ministry, through the rich and complex relationships between the individual members of the Body—the Church makes Christ present in and to the world. The Head of the Church is Christ, and those who have seen the Body have seen the Head; those who experience the ministry of the Body have experienced the ministry of the Head.
So, when we get out theology straight, it becomes possible to deal creatively and positively with our envy of those who lived in Palestine twenty centuries ago and felt beads of Jesus’ sweat fall onto their own skin as he ministered to them with compassion and healing. They really have no advantage over us. In that village of Nain, it was Jesus who walked bodily up to the widow who was mourning her son, and said to her with sound waves that fell on her ear drums, in the words of her native language, “Do not weep.” And it was Jesus who walked bodily up to the stretcher bearing the remains of the dead man, and commanded him to rise from death. Jesus did those things with his body. And if the Church is indeed the Body of Christ…then make the logical leap with me. See with me that the Church is the medium through which we still experience the compassionate touch of Jesus. As the members of that body, you and I and the whole company of the baptized are the first ones to experience that compassionate touch. Then, through us, that touch is available to the world. Jesus still has compassion. We, collectively, are the vehicle of that compassion. Jesus still heals—physically, emotionally, materially, and spiritually—and we, collectively, are the agents of that healing. And, yes, miracles still happen. They’re not commonplace; they’ve never been commonplace. They’ve always been signs of the age that is coming, but not yet fully arrived. Yet, I would be so bold as to suggest that the sum total of miracles that happen now in any given year exceeds the sum total of miracles that happened during any given year of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Why? Because the “body of Christ”—and, hence, the compassionate and healing touch of Christ—can now be in a lot more places than was possible when the body of Christ was contained by a hundred mile corridor between southern Lebanon and Jerusalem. And, of course, the compassionate and healing touch of Jesus is not restricted to miracles. We will experience that touch when we come to the altar for Holy Communion. Some may experience that touch downstairs during coffee hour, or in any number of different ways in the coming week.
When we understand how it is that Jesus touches us yet today, even as he touched the Widow of Nain and her son, when we understand that it is in the organic life of the Church that Jesus’ touch is still to be found, we are inspired to an even greater level of faithfulness in our participation in the Church’s life. Why would we deprive ourselves of the healing and compassionate touch of Jesus when we know that his touch is available in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in the community of the Church, from organized ministries to sitting around a table in the parish hall over lemonade and cookies? And when we know that the Church is the Body of Christ, and we have been joined to that Body in the waters of baptism, we are inspired to even more faithful participation in the mission of the Church. Why would we deprive the world of the compassionate and healing touch of Christ when we know that we are cells in the body through which that touch is extended and offered? Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Met with the Youth Department from 10 until almost noon. Then went home, packed, and headed north with Brenda to Chicago for our granddaughter Elsa's second birthday party. She was in good form for a tw-year old, and seemed to enjoy it immensely. At about 10, we decided to get a jump start on tomorrow's journey (to St Paul's, Pekin) and found a hotel in Joliet.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Took a long-scheduled personal retreat/quiet day today at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area, about 25 miles NW of Springfield. Ended up walking eight miles at full cruising speed in 2.5 hours, so I am pretty wiped tonight. Yes, I did get some good praying done. And FYI, Jim Edgar is one of the few recent Illinois governors who did not go to jail ... so he gets a park named after him. Sadly, I seem to have brought home some ticks with me, so there is domestic discontent.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
- Eight weeks post-op, and my weight-bearing restrictions are lifted. This meant I could resume (at an appropriately scaled-down level) my customary Thursday morning workout routine: Quality time with the Bowflex and treadmill.
- In the office a little past nine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on some administrative/pastoral matters.
- Got to work on a draft of a homily for St Barnabas' Day, transferred to June 16 at St Barnabas', Havana.
- Met with Deacon Tom Langford over one pastoral matter and one program matter.
- Continued work on the St Barnabas sermon.
- Lunch at home.
- Back in the office in time for a scheduled conference call with my co-trustee representative (a Bank of American trust officer) for the Putnam Trust (that benefits St John the Divine, Champaign and St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel), along with the new investment advisor (another B of A employee).
- Dashed off to the Crown Plaza Hotel for a cameo appearance at the annual assembly of the Central & Southern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
- Back to the office, where I continued work on the St Barnabas sermon, and finally finished it.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
- Usual morning routine; MP in the cathedral.
- Did exegetical work and consulted commentaries on the readings for Proper 14, in preparation for an August 11 sermon at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel.
- Took a phone call from someone interested in exploring some ministry possibilities.
- Met with Fr Greg Tournoux in follow up to last Saturday's Clergy Day.
- Lunch at home.
- Made air travel arrangements for a brief trip abroad in August.
- Scanned and otherwise processed a thick pile of hard copy materials in my physical inbox.
- Took care of a routine self-organization chore.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
- Weekly task planning and email processing begun at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took me until nearly 11am to clear my email inbox.
- Penned a personal note to a colleague bishop facing some serious health issues.
- Took a substantive phone call from Fr Ralph McMichael, reporting on his experience as interim priest for St Andrew's, Carbondale and St James', Marion.
- Lunch at home.
- Answered a snail mail letter and fulfilled various promises to sent various things to various people.
- Met for nearly two hours with the Archdeacon and the Administrator over "elections and appointments," an annual ritual that forms one link in the chain leading up to Synod in October.
- Refined and printed a working script for this Sunday's sermon at St Paul's, Pekin.
- Conceived and hatched a homily for Proper 13 (August 4 at St Mary's, Robinson).
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Monday, June 3, 2013
While still in the Sewanee area, I enjoyed a scheduled and leisurely breakfast with the Dean of the School of Theology, Bishop Neil Alexander. Then I went back to my Monteagle hotel, changed into my traveling attire, packed up, gassed up ($.60 per gallon lower than Springfield), and hit the road at 10:30. I pulled into the driveway at home around 6:20. I enjoy road trips.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Woke up in my Princeton, Indiana hotel room; packed and out the door around 8am. Distressed not to be able to find my wallet anywhere, but glad that I keep an extra credit card in the car. Celebrated and preached with a small but animated group of worshipers at St John's, Albion, followed by a very engaging discussion of mission strategy over an appetizing post-liturgical repast. I shared with them a condensed version of what I presented to the Clergy Day yesterday and it sparked a great deal of interest and conversation. As I was getting ready to leave Albion, I found my wallet, which was a cause of great rejoicing. I hit the road around 11:30, heading east and south to Evansville, IN, then across the Ohio River into Kentucky, eventually picking up I-24, which angles right into Nashville and then on toward Chattanooga, but off at a high point in the Cumberland Plateau called Monteagle, which is the gateway to Sewanee, the University of the South. I checked into the Best Western Smokehouse, got settled, and eventually met Springfield seminarian and his wife Carly for dinner at a place called Dave's Modern Tavern. Pulled pork with BBQ sauce over garlic and bacon grits. Need I say more? After dinner, I met Cameron and Carly once again, this time on campus at the Memorial Cross, from which there is a breathtaking vista of the valley floor a thousand feet below, and a wonderful vantage point from which to watch the sun set. which we did, and then some.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
We had a fine Clergy Day today, drilling down on an outcome-based approach to the formation of Christian disciples who are competent to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ to a broken world. This link is to my working notes for the presentation I made at the beginning of the day.
Writing now from a hotel room in Princeton, IN--yes, the best we can do by way of a hotel reasonably near Albion, where I have a visitation at St John's tomorrow. It was a four hour drive from Springfield.