Friday, May 31, 2013

Visitation of the BVM

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Spent the entire morning, and the afternoon until 3:00, preparing for tomorrow's Clergy Day. Things always take longer than one plans on. Took a break for lunch at home (carryout from McD's).
  • Completed a working outline of my sermon for this Sunday.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the office gospel reading for the feast of the Visitation.
  • Took a first pass at the readings for Proper 14 (August 11 at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel).
  • Performed some routine personal organization chores pertaining to the end of the month.
  • Wrestled some with my incubating sermon for Proper 7 (June 23 at Redeemer, Cairo), arriving at a message statement.
  • Took a phone call from my ELCA opposite number, Bishop John Roth--just checking in to see how I'm doing in my recovery.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner out with Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman, in town on the early side for tomorrow's Clergy Day.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday (Corpus Christi / Eve of Visitation)

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Tended to some administrivia.
  • Took a phone call from the Dean of Nashotah House, ensuring that we are both singing off the same song sheet on a potentially sensitive matter.
  • Began to put some meat on the bones of my homily for this Sunday at St John's, Albion.
  • Lunch from LaBamba, eaten at home. Stayed there for work0-from-home afternoon.
  • Engaged in some particular preparation for my attendance (third and final year) at the Living Our Vows program for new bishops next month.
  • Ran a couple of personal errands.
  • Plotted the primary (and some secondary) moves in a sermon for St Barnbas' Day, to be given at St Barnabas' Church, Havana, on June 15.
  • Loaded vestments and hit the road for Decatur at 5pm.
  • 6:30 Mass at St John's with two confirmations and one reception, celebrating the eve of the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 
  • Back home around 9 to find a very large tree limb in our back yard. Only daylight will reveal the extent of damage to other trees and shrubs, but we are fortunate that neither the house nor any sentient creatures were harmed.

Sermon for the Visitation of the BVM


St John's, Decatur--Luke 1:39-57

Although I am sorry that this is a “makeup” visitation because I had to miss my regularly scheduled visit to you after Easter, I’m kind of glad to be here to keep a feast that we don’t usually get to observe in a grand fashion—the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story is not unfamiliar to us, because we hear it in connection with the Advent and Christmas cycle: When Mary is told that she’s going to become the mother of God Incarnate, the angel offers her a confirming sign: a relative of hers—cousin? aunt? we’re not told—who is herself beyond childbearing years, Elizabeth, had become pregnant, and was indeed already in her sixth month. So, rather soon thereafter, Mary packs up and heads from Nazareth to the Judean hill country, which was kind of an arduous trip, rather like going from Decatur to, say, Danville, only on foot, or at the speed of a donkey, and with bad roads and lots of hills. But Mary makes it to Judea safely, knocks on Elizabeth’s door, and when Elizabeth answers, her unborn child, John the Baptist, does an in utero backflip in recognition of the presence of the Son of God, freshly conceived in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth responds with, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” and then Mary breaks out into the song we know liturgically as the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

I am part of the 50% of the human race that is less qualified to say anything about pregnancy and childbirth than the other 50% of the human race. So I realize I’m treading on slightly dangerous ground here. But I can still say with some authority, having been closely associated with three pregnancies and three births, that pregnancy is a time of great expectancy; indeed, one of the euphemisms for pregnancy in our culture is to say that a woman is “expecting.” We don’t even have to add “expecting a baby;” that’s just understood.

So Elizabeth and Mary are both “expecting” in the euphemistic sense, but they both also bring other dimensions of expectation to their unlikely encounter on the doorstep of Elizabeth’s home. Elizabeth had conceived late in life. She was carrying a miracle baby, and had been told that he would be a great prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord. Mary was carrying even more of a miracle baby, because he had been conceived without the participation of a sexual partner, and she had been told that he would be called the Son of the Most High, and that he would reign over Israel as the heir of the great King David. Both of these women had great expectations for the children they were carrying.

In the tradition of Christian spirituality, Mary is understood as a prefigurement of the Church. We see in her the Church encapsulated, they way a great oak tree is encapsulated in a tiny acorn. The Son of the Most High, the eternal Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, took human flesh in and from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus the Christ was, quite literally, formed in her. While she was “expecting,” Christ was formed in her.

In that, we who are the leaves and branches of the mature oak tree find our vocation. It’s in our DNA. We were given this vocation when we were still part of the acorn, encapsulated in the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our vocation is to allow Christ to be formed in us as he was formed in the womb of his mother. Our vocation, collectively as the Church and individually as Christian disciples, is to be pregnant! Our vocation is to be expecting—always expecting, even as Elizabeth and Mary were expecting on that day of their encounter. Now, I could go on the rest of the evening about what it looks like for Christ to be formed in us. Among other things, a person in whom Christ has been formed has a deep confidence in his or her relationship with Christ and can talk about that relationship naturally and winsomely. That person is also familiar with the underlying story of God’s dealings with the human race and what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. That person has cultivated habits of prayer and study and service within the community of the Church, and has an awareness of his or her spiritual gifts, and uses those gifts. That person seeks the Lord’s guidance before making major life decisions, and has acquired the wisdom to make moral and ethical choices in a responsible and faithful manner. These are among the marks of a disciple in whom Christ has been formed. These are the marks of a community that is constantly expecting, constantly pregnant with God incarnate.

If we keep reading in Luke’s gospel, we find that, in due course—and I love the way the King James Version puts it here—“the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Mary gave birth. She delivered. The other thing I’ve learned about pregnancy is, it’s a temporary condition. (I know, tell that to a woman who’s eight months pregnant in July, right?) As individuals and as a community for whom Mary is our model, part of our “expectancy” is that we are ready to give birth to the Jesus who is being formed in us, ready to deliver. This happens, to use another pregnant biblical expression, in “the fullness of time,” or as we might be more apt to say, when “the time is ripe.”

In our baptismal vows, which we have an opportunity to renew several times a year, we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” I might suggest that proclaiming good news by example is what we do during the time of our pregnancy, during the time of our expectation. We conduct ourselves, both individually and together, in such a way that those in the world cannot help but be both annoyed—annoyed because it challenges the way they are living their own lives—and strangely compelled to take a close look, to investigate further, because they see in us something that they are profoundly hungry and thirsty for. Then, in the fullness of time, when the time is right, the days are accomplished that we should be delivered of that which we had until that moment left unspoken, and our proclamation in deed becomes a proclamation in word.

My friends, whether we are male or female, young or old, single or married, the feast of the Visitation of Our Lady is a time for us all to be pregnant, a time for us all to be expecting. This is a time for us to pay close attention to how Christ is being formed in us, and to be alert to the signs that our days are accomplished, and that we should be prepared to give birth, to deliver the Son of the Most High, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing, to a world divided and enslaved by sin, that people may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.  Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Processed a Marital Judgment request from one of our parish clergy.
  • Began a Nashotah House-related project.
  • Met with Fr Halt and Fr Wetmore on a youth ministry-related endeavor at the very incipient stages.
  • Lunch from Hickory River, eaten at home.
  • Met with Fr Evans and Sandy to debrief on their trip to Peru and make plans to cultivate that new companion diocese relationship.
  • Finished the Nashotah project I began in the morning.
  • Worked on the draft of my homily for Proper 5 (June 8 at St Paul's, Pekin).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday

  • Weekly task planning and some email processing at home over tea and breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Finished email processing.
  • Began to produce a working script for the homily I will give Thursday night at St John's, Decatur, observing the eve of the Visitation of the BVM.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Resumed and completed working on the Visitation sermon.
  • Made lodging arrangements in the Sewanee, TN area for Sunday night, when I will be visiting one of our seminarians.
  • After realizing this morning that preparation of a sermon for this very coming Sunday had fallen through the cracks of my task planning system (can you imagine?!), I conceived and hatched a homily for Proper 4. It will require a couple of more sessions of work before the week is out.
  • Edited and posted lectionary-based forms for the Prayers of the People on the diocesan website to cover June (except for this Sunday), July, and August. Hoping that more of our Eucharistic Communities will begin to use this resource.
  • Evening Prayer in the Cathedral.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday

Out the door (solo, Brenda staying home to care for the sick dog) at 7:30 ahead of a 10am arrival for a 10:30 celebration of the Eucharist on Trinity Sunday at Trinity Church in Mt Vernon. I was very warmly received by the good people of Trinity and their rector, Fr Gene Tucker. After a delicious post-liturgical repast of road turkey and everything that usually accompanies road turkey, I was back on the road toward home at 1, which meant an arrival time of 3:30. 

Sermon for Trinity Sunday


Trinity, Mount Vernon

With the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in our society, there is a great deal of discussion these days about what it means to be an American. What is it that is common to the American experience, whether our roots lie in Europe or Asia, Africa or the South Pacific … or among the first human settlers of this land? There are probably a number of plausible answers to this question, but one of them is certainly social mobility. We take it for granted that each of us has the right to live wherever we choose to and can afford to live, to pursue whatever livelihood may appeal to us—and to succeed or fail at it, as the case may be—to choose whatever hair style and wardrobe we deem appropriate, and to move in any social circle to which we may aspire, whatever the circumstances of our birth may have been.

This is part of what it means to be an American, but it has not always been thus in the various lands of our ancestors. In medieval Europe, if your father tended a forge and made horseshoes for a living, your last name was probably Smith, and if you were a male, you would probably end up doing the same thing for a living. If you were the son of a man who turned cattle skins into leather, your last name was probably Tanner, and it was a trade that had occupied your forebears and would occupy your descendants for a multitude of generations. Your parents chose your marriage partner, and it was always somebody of equal social and economic standing. You were taught from a very early age to be content with your station in life—whatever it was—to not chafe against it, but to accept it gracefully. Any attempt to move beyond one’s class was considered a threat to the social order. It was actually thought of as sinful, as an act of ingratitude to God.

Of course, in 1776, the American Revolution did some serious damage to this concept, and thirteen years later the French Revolution, with the assistance of Madame Guillotine, tried to finish the job. For many in the world today, particularly for Americans, the whole idea of any fixed and inherent “order” in social relationships, the notion of stratified classes in society, is the height of civil heresy. If it did not seem quaint and foreign, it would be positively hateful.

But we have, in more recent times, followed this path to some disturbing extremes. We have taken the revolutionary ideal of a classless society, of a society in which practically anyone can aspire to practically anything, and turned it into a matter of rights. Are we not, as a society, inordinately obsessed with rights and entitlements?  We have a right for everything now, and some judge can probably find it in the constitution. I once read about a residential real estate developer who refused to sell a home to a man just because the guy was a lawyer, and the developer thought it would only be a matter of time before the lawyer would find something to sue about. So what did the lawyer do in response? He sued, of course! The logical conclusion to all of this is that if anybody has a dollar more than I have, or looks at me cross-eyed, or cuts me off in traffic, or misspells my name, or is in any way better off than I am, then I’m a victim. My rights have been violated.  Equal opportunity isn’t enough; I want equal results.

Nowadays, the “cutting edge” has to do with issues of sexual orientation with respect to marriage and ordination. And in some parts of the Anglican world, there is a serious move afoot to allow lay persons to preside at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  Now, no doubt, some of these changes are good and just, and others may not be, but the relevant fact is that all this is done in the name of equal rights, all this is done in the name of opposition to “hierarchy,” it is all done largely in reaction to the oppressive social order that we inherited from medieval Europe, and which remains the standard today in many non-western cultures. Anything done in reaction is done in fear, and fear is incompatible with the message of the gospel.

Trinity Sunday offers us an alternative to fear. Trinity Sunday offers us a vision of order, a vision of hierarchy, but without the oppression and coercion that the revolutions of the 18th century rebelled against, and which we, in our quintessentially American hearts, still feel driven to guard against. Scripture tells us repeatedly that our God is a god of order, not of chaos. St Paul exhorted the Corinthians that everything should be done “decently and in order.” As Christ is an icon, a sacrament, of God, and as the church is an icon, a sacrament, of Christ, so the church should reflect, in the way its life is arranged, the nature and character of God. As the church, we are to reflect this attribute of orderliness. But this is difficult. It is difficult for those of us reared in the traditional American values of fairness, individual initiative, and competition. It is just as difficult for those of us formed in the more recent American values of egalitarianism, diversity, and rights. Order is by nature hierarchical. One comes before two, and two comes before three. Yet, it is a complex mystery, because three is greater than two, and two is greater than one.

The question is, then, can order be hierarchical without being oppressive and coercive? The answer lies in the inner life of the holy and blessed and glorious and undivided Trinity whom we worship and adore on this feast day. Our creeds teach us that the three “persons” of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—are so united one with another that they share the same essential Being, the Being we name as God. They cannot be separated and pitted one against another. We cannot pray to the Father and hope the Son doesn’t hear. We cannot implore the Holy Spirit to keep a secret from the Father. They are one God—Trinity of Persons, Unity of Being. Yet, the Persons of the Trinity are distinct: the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and so forth, through all the possible combinations. Each has a peculiar ministry within the “community” that comprises God. The Father reveals God’s transcendence—His complete holiness and “otherness,” the immortal and invisible and inaccessible light Who is eternally distinct from the universe He has made.  The Son reveals God’s immanence—His presence and involvement with and providential care for all of creation. The Holy Spirit reveals the unity of God. He is like the line that connects the dots. He is the light that shines on the Father and the Son and allows us to see them.

Now, we speak of the Father as the “first” person of the Trinity, the Son as the “second” person of the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit as the third “person” of the Trinity. There is a fundamental order, an essential hierarchy, to God that simply is.  It is not open to question. Each member of the Godhead, in effect, accepts His “station” in life, not seeking to usurp another one, much as the cobbler’s son was counseled to learn how to make shoes and not entertain fantasies of marrying the Duke’s daughter. Yet, within this order, each Person of the Trinity defers to the other two. There is not even a hint of jealousy or competition or concern with rights.

So Trinity Sunday is far from being the celebration of an abstract doctrine. It is an act of worship and praise toward God who, within the inner life of the Trinity, provides us with a model for Holy Order, hierarchy without oppression. Our life together is to be characterized by order. Just as the persons of the Trinity are not interchangeable, ministries within the Church are not all alike, not interchangeable. Each is peculiar. Those who are called to ordination exercise a certain authority and leadership within the community, but they are not for that reason greater than or more important than those who minister as members of the laity. Each defers to the other in an appropriate way, reflecting the mutual deference of the persons of the Trinity.  Those who are called to the sacrament of marriage manifest in their lives the sacred mystery of the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church, but they are not therefore greater than or more important than those who are called to holy singleness or those who don’t know yet to which state they are called. And within marriage, women and men are not interchangeable. Each represents to his or her partner the transcendent Other who is in fact God calling us into union with Himself. Those who live in religious communities have a unique opportunity to live out the New Testament injunction to “pray without ceasing” and are immeasurably blessed in their vocation. Yet, they are not thereby greater than or more important than the majority of us who are called to live and work in the world. Some ministries and states of life seem to collect more honor and recognition than others. Yet, all are necessary, all are complementary. In fact, it is only within the apparent restraints of order and hierarchy that the truest freedom and authentic giving is to be found. To know the Holy Trinity is itself Eternal Life, and to serve the Holy Trinity is perfect freedom.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday (St Bede)

Stayed home all day, save for a trip to Smokey Bones for dinner. Did four loads of laundry (all mine), devoted 45 minutes to the treadmill, processed several emails, helped Brenda care for her ailing dog. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday (St Jackson Kemper)

This was a day that just never did get off the ground for me. Felt just plain underpowered. My main accomplishment, beyond a scheduled phone call wearing my Living Church Foundation board member hat, was the production of a rough draft of a homily for the eve of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (next Thursday evening in Decatur, another "makeup" visitation). But it took me all day; I was just that unfocused. It could be a medication glitch. We'll see. In the meantime, Brenda's beloved 12-year old border collie, Lucy, is clearly quite sick--not eating or drinking and not interested in going outside. Brenda got her into the vet, who says her white and blood cell counts are both dangerously low. Brenda is devoted to that dog, and is praying for a peaceful end, if that is what it has come to. In the evening, I did manage to churn out a blog post in response to a recent sermon of the Presiding Bishop

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended to a handful of items of pastoral and administrative detritus.
  • Consulted commentaries and otherwise exegeted the gospel for Proper 7--the restoration of the Gerasene demoniac in Luke--in preparation for preaching at Redeemer, Cairo on June 23.
  • Lunch (on the late side) from a "Chicago-style" place on West Jefferson (Italian roast beef), eaten at home.
  • Back to the office for an appointment with Deacon Anne Flynn of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. She and her husband are now living in Charleston and attending Trinity, Mattoon, where they have already injected another layer of vitality into that community. We will be licensing Deacon Anne to function in this diocese.
  • Wrestled a message statement out of the readings for St Barnabas' Day, in preparation for celebrating their feast of title with the people of St Barnabas', Havana on June 16.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed an intimidating stack of hard-copy items that accumulated during my time away from the office.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wednesday

  • Back to the usual weekday morning routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Returned some phone calls and processed some emails.
  • Extended and substantive scheduled phone conversation with a representative of the philanthropic department of U.S. Trust--in effect, my co-trustee as regards the Putnam trust, which provides an income stream to two of our parishes.
  • Impromptu conversation with Fr Roderick over some details in anticipation of the upcoming Clergy Day, and for a general check in on how his still-new ministry at St Paul's Cathedral is going.
  • Back to email processing.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home, followed by a brief nap (in deference to my not-fully-recovered status), and a personal errand.
  • Substantive phone conversation with Fr Dale Coleman over a pilot project called Renewal Works that St George's, Belleville has been involved in.
  • Extended phone conversation with the Executive Director of the The Living Church, wearing my TLC Foundation board member hat.
  • More email processing.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday

  • Began chipping away at my rather formidable to-do list for this week while still at home, over tea and breakfast. 
  • In the office around 9am. Morning Prayer the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon over sundry administrative and pastoral matters.
  • Produced a working script of a sermon for this Sunday (Trinity, Mount Vernon).
  • Took care of some business related to my membership in the group of Communion Partner bishops.
  • Left at 12:15 for a 12:3o appointment with my local cardiologist, whom I did not actually see until 1:30, and it was well after 2 before I left the Prairie Heart Institute.
  • Collected my computer at the office and headed home (via McDonald's).
  • Fleshed out an printed a working outline for tonight's homily at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Laid back in the recliner for about a 45 minute nap. This is by way of prudent personal resource management. I realize I can't yet operate at the pace that was my wont prior to the cardiac incident in March.
  • Left the house around 5:10, headed for Edwardsville. I have to brag a bit on St Andrew's. My surgery made me miss their scheduled visitation on April 7. So, tonight, over 60 people, including organist and choir (with a prepared anthem, no less) showed up for a midweek service at which we confirmed five beaming young people. This is a fine testimony to the superb pastoral leadership they have received from their about-to-retire rector of 17 years, Mother Virginia Bennett.
  • Home just before 11.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost

Spirit-filled Pentecost celebration at Holy Trinity, Danville this morning. It was my joy to baptize an adult (shown here holding her son) and confirm a youth. Holy Trinity is a community that takes their worship very seriously ... themselves not so much, which is a great combination. 


Pentecost Sermon


Holy Trinity, Danville--Acts 2:1-21

The story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, recorded for us in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, is very familiar to most of us. We’ve heard it or read it dozens and dozens of times, or more. We could hit the high points from memory, without even cracking open a Bible: fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, ten days after watching the risen Jesus disappear into a cloud, all the disciples are gathered together in one place, in Jerusalem. There’s a loud noise, like the rushing wind; I’ve already imagined it sounded like a tornado, but what do I know? I’ve never heard a tornado! Then something that looked like tongues of flame appeared over each one’s head. Do you know something? This funny pointed hat that I wear is supposed to be a reminder of those tongues of flame, because one hopes that bishops operate under the authority and in the power of the Holy Spirit. One hopes. And then these disciples started to speak in languages that they had never studied, never learned the old-fashioned way. But people from all over the Mediterranean world were suddenly hearing Palestinian Jews—relatively uneducated Palestinian Jews, at that—speaking fluently in an array of languages.

St Luke the Evangelist, through whose good graces we have this account, of course, is at pains to point out that all these signs—the sound of wind, the tongues of flame, and the speaking and hearing of diverse languages—all these signs are the work of the Holy Spirit. These aren’t just random acts; God is up to something really big here. Luke goes on to quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
  and your young men shall see visions,
  and your old men shall dream dreams;

  in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
  and signs on the earth below…
This has also become a very familiar passage to many of us, myself included. But as I sat with these words yet again, in anticipation of being with you all here today, what struck me was the expression “pour out”—“I will pour out my Spirit,” God says. Is this not a rather arresting image? I mean, Luke, giving voice to the Lord, could have said “pass out” or “distribute” or merely “give.” Any of those expressions would have reminded us of something rather more orderly than what happened at Pentecost. But what we have is “pour out,” which is an image, not of scarcity or caution, or even prudence, but of abundance and abandon. When you pour something out, it’s with the understanding that the event might get a little sloppy, and not all of whatever it is you’re pouring will necessarily stay right where you poured it. It will slosh around, and go other places, and that’s OK. 
There’s an old evangelical gospel song from the 1880s that I’m reminded of here. I used to sing it in my misspent Baptist youth—though, considerably later than the 1880s! It’s called Showers of Blessing—which is actually a biblical image; it comes from Ezekiel 34—and this gospel hymn has it in the chorus after each verse:
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead. 
In other words, we want—we need—God’s blessing, God’s Holy Spirit, to be poured out on us. These “mercy drops” that we see everywhere … they’re alright, they’re nice, we’re not going to refuse them. But mere “drops” of divine mercy just make us thirsty for more. We want to be drenched; we want to be soaked—“mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead”—and “in those days, I will pour out my Sprit”—yeah, that’s what we want! Showers of blessing; God’s Spirit poured out on us.

So the question in front of us on this Day of Pentecost 2013, my friends, is this: Are we going to settle for “mercy-drops” of God’s blessing, little “tokens” of God’s power and presence.” It’s hard not to argue that it sometimes looks like we do. Nearly forty years ago, I remember arriving at church early one Sunday morning. Our regular priest was away that week, and we had a supply priest—a supply bishop, a retired bishop who was part of the congregation—and he was talking to the family of a toddler who was going to be baptized that morning. The parents were expressing concern that their son was a little headstrong, and might actually try to bolt right at the moment of baptism. And the bishop’s reply, in an attempt to be re-assuring, was something like, “Don’t worry. As long as one drop of water gets on him, it’ll be valid.” Valid. Well, yes. I’m not going to argue with the bishop’s theology. If one drop reached the nape of his neck or even the cuff of his trousers, there’s a “valid” baptism. Valid, perhaps, but how does it even begin to resemble a bath, let alone death and burial with Christ if the kid is running off screaming? That’s settling for a mercy-drop, when what we need is a shower! And I’m probably stepping on a sacred cow here, but … these communion wafers that we use in most of our churches … they’re awfully convenient, and we take them for granted. But, seriously, doesn’t it require at least as much faith to believe that they’re really bread as to believe that, in the Mass, they become the Body of Christ?!

My brothers and sisters, the gift of the Holy Spirit is a powerful sign of the superabundance with which God wants to bless us. God wants to send us showers of blessing, not just a few scattered mercy-drops. So let us pray, let us pray earnestly, for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in abundance—poured out.  
And let’s not be bashful about it. Let’s go right for the good stuff, those things that are spoken of nowadays as the “power gifts” of the Holy Spirit, the kind of stuff we read about in Acts—speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing. No mercy-drops on this list! Why? It’s obvious.  Because these things get people’s attention.  These things arouse faith. These things lead people to Jesus, and cause them to be open to becoming disciples of Jesus in the company of his church. The fact of the matter is, wherever the Church is growing and thriving, these signs are present. Where the Church is under persecution, these signs are present. Go to many parts of Africa. Go to parts of the Middle East. You will see signs and wonders, and you’ll wonder whatever made you settle for mercy-drops.

But let us pray as well—indeed, let us pray earnestly—for the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, the non-flashy gifts such as teaching and pastoring and evangelizing and administration and hospitality and craftsmanship. Why? Because these are the things that stabilize and nourish and support the people of God in their baptismal ministry of reconciliation. Our mission, you know, according to our own Prayer Book catechism, is to reconcile all people to God and one another in Christ. That’s a big job, and we need pastors and teachers and administrators and people who can fix things in order for this to happen.

Finally, let us pray, and pray earnestly, for the fruits of the Spirit. It’s a familiar list from St Paul’s epistle to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Why pray for the fruits? Because these are the things that make us holy; these are the things that, gradually, bit by bit, day by day, fit and fashion us for heaven, prepare us to live in the unfiltered presence of God, which is our destiny as those who are made in his image.

So I hope what we take away from this celebration of Pentecost is the knowledge that there is nothing to be gained by shyness or modesty in what we ask of God, in what we ask of the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, we love those mercy-drops, but let’s keep expecting showers, let’s keep expecting God’s Spirit not to be doled out in neat little pieces, like there’s a limited quantity, but poured out in abundance, sloshing around with abandon into all the nooks and crannies and cracks and crevices and peaks and valleys of our lives. 

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday

I've been at Nashotah House since midday Tuesday, but our otherwise quite comfortable guest accommodations lack an internet connection, and the agenda has been full, so this is the first moment I've had to steal some time in refectory, where the signal is strong. Ordained two transitional deacons in St Mary's Chapel Tuesday night, participated in Alumni Day activities yesterday, took part in Commencement this morning (including conferring two honorary doctorates, thus honing my Latin skills), and chaired the trustees meeting this afternoon (m0re of that tomorrow morning). With luck, we will be back in Springfield by dinner time Friday.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Joyful visitation to Christ the King, Normal ... lunch at a Turkish restaurant (tasty) ... safe drive home ... Cubs win ... solid nap ... long walk (almost hitting the 10,000 step barrier today) ... some important work done in the evening ... a good day.

Sermon for Easter VII


Christ the King, Normal--Acts 16:16-34, John 17:20-26

This is, if anything, the age of mission statements. Every group from Fortune 500 companies to the sixth grade classroom at the local elementary school has one, and many of you have, I’m sure, spent hours of your life at work—hours that are now lost and gone forever—hammering out a mission statement for your department or other working group. I don’t mean to sound too cynical here. I am myself responsible for subjecting many people to mission statement development processes, and sometimes they actually accomplish their intended purpose, keeping a group focused, and empowering its members to say No to attractive distractions.

As Episcopalians, our overarching mission statement is provided for us in the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer:
Q: What is the mission of the Church?
A: The mission of the Church is to reconcile all people to God and one another in Christ.
Simple, direct, clear. One might also argue, impossible. We’ve been given Mission: Impossible.  Can we bring the design group back together? Aren’t mission statements supposed to be realistic, doable? Well, actually, the Prayer Book didn’t make this one up. It pretty much comes from Jesus himself, and it’s called the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and announce the Good News … “ In the vows we take at baptism, vows that we renew pretty regularly, we promise to proclaim the Good News in deed and word, in what we say and in how we live. We undertake to do this as individuals in our daily lives, in our daily environments, and we undertake to do this together, corporately, as local church communities.

And just what is the good news that it is our mission to announce in all these various ways? There are any number of correct and appropriate ways to answer that question, but here’s my answer today: Whatever divides us, Jesus unites us.

Whatever divides us, Jesus unites us.

Human beings are divided—alienated, estranged, cut off—from one another in more ways than we can count, but let’s just hit a few of the high points. We are divided by ethnicity. A century ago, American cities were torn apart by animosity between Italians and Irish and Germans and Poles. Later it was Caucasians and African-Americans—do you remember the 1960s? Where I lived in California between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, there was deep tension in the schools between Southeast Asians and Latinos. As long as we find our identity in our ethnicity, there will be tension and discord and the constant threat of violence. But Jesus has a better idea, which is that we find our common identity in him, that “Christian” is the label we wear, and the sign of the cross is the only gang sign by which we mark ourselves. In a world of ethnic alienation, our impossible mission is to announce the good news that Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.

Human beings are also divided and alienated by national boundaries. Now, I want you to know that I love my country. When my Brazilian cousins teased me in 1970 over America never having won a World Cup soccer championship, I proudly pointed to the moon and asked them, “What flag flies there?” That pretty well shut them up! But I also want you to know that being an American is not where I find my sense of who I am. It just happened that way. I’m very blessed as a result, but it just happened that way. There is no passport in the world I would rather carry than my U.S. passport. But the United States is not the holy land, and Americans are not God’s chosen people. God does not love us any more than he loves Greeks or Laotians or Bolivians. And the good news it is our mission to announce is that God doesn’t see national boundaries and that Jesus has called us out of every nation and formed us as one new people and issued us passports from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Human beings are also divided by class, by wealth, by education, by musical and literary taste, and by what sports teams we cheer for. And in each of these categories, it is our mission to announce the good news that these sources of estrangement do not have the last word; God has the last word, and that word is reconciliation and peace in Christ.

So, what is hindering us in our witness? What is preventing us from being more effective in announcing the good news of reconciliation with God and with one another in Christ? Well, beyond our own lack of conviction and faith, perhaps, I would suggest that it might be our own disunity. Think about it: There are multiple brand names and multiple messages among those who claim to be Christian. You know, a company like, say, McDonalds, which undoubtedly has a mission statement somewhere … McDonalds knows who their competition is. It’s other fast food chains that are competing for the same consumer dollars, and McDonalds adjusts their menu and their pricing and their advertising in order to stay ahead of their competition. Do we know who our competition is? We think we do, but, sadly, we probably think it’s other brand names, other kinds of Christian churches. That’s what I hear as I go around the diocese: “Bishop, the megachurch down the road has stolen all our young people!” Do we see what a huge scandal this is? Probably not, because it’s so huge that it’s all we see. We don’t know any other world; we don’t know any other way. The scandal is not that the megachurch down the road is stealing all our young people, but that there is a megachurch down the road! The Christian community in Bloomington-Normal does not speak with one united voice; it speaks with a hundred different competing voices.  Can you imagine how non-Christians in McLean County interpret this lack of unity? I think you can, and I think you know how it impedes our mission of announcing the good news of reconciliation, when we who are making the announcement cannot even be reconciled among ourselves.

Can you picture one of those Facebook infographics that ends with the tag line, “Things Jesus never said”? Well, this is one thing Jesus never meant to have happen. How do I know that? How can I say it with such confidence? Because of Jesus’ own prayer on the night before his passion. Listen in:
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 
What did Jesus pray for? That all his disciples be one. Why did he pray for that? That the world may know that he is sent from God.

I want to end by sharing with you an example of the sort of attitude and behavior that is necessary if we are to be motivated and inspired to face into our divisions with courage and realism—all, of course, for the sake of our mission, our mission of reconciling all people to God and one another in Christ. As we read in the sixteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Silas were in city of Philippi doing their usual missionary thing. They ran afoul of some of the local merchants, who ginned up the civil authorities to have them thrown in jail. So they’re spending the night with their hands in chains and their feet in stocks, passing the time by, of all things, singing hymns. They face a trial in the morning, and the possibility of more severe punishment, even death. Then, in the middle of the night, there’s an earthquake. Their chains fall off, all the doors in the jail swing open, and the only thing between them and their freedom is their willingness and ability to move their own feet.

Then they encountered the jailer. He was distraught. He was going to get blamed for a massive jailbreak, and he was about to take his own life. He sees Paul and Silas and pleads with them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” This is an incredibly awkward moment of decision for these two missionaries. Do they blow off the jailer and run, literally, for their lives? Or do they respond in love to a man who sees his life as hopeless and is desperate to hear good news, at the risk of putting themselves right back in chains and stocks? We know, of course, what they did. They chose Door #2. Out of commitment to their mission—that is, for the sake of the jailer, the one who had been the very instrument of their own suffering—for the sake of their mission, Paul and Silas were willing to surrender their freedom, which had just fallen into their laps as a gift from God. “[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” There was a moment of “mission accomplished.” Everyone was reconciled to God and to one another in Christ.

This, my friends, is what it will take. The refusal of Paul and Silas to walk out of that jail and leave the jailer helpless is driven by a level of faith that produces the sort of unity that will impress the world. Nothing less will do. Alleluia and Amen. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday

  • Up and out the door around 9:30. Mingled in the diocesan office/cathedral parking lot with members of Diocesan Council as they began to arrive.
  • Participated in the Eucharist as part of the congregation, grateful to Fr Roderick's willingness to celebrate and preach. 
  • Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Council, aware that everyone these was probably grateful that they're only quarterly (in many dioceses, Council meets monthly). It was a good meeting, as far as the current structure allow for such things. But the time approaches for us to turn up the flame under the process of re-writing our diocesan constitution and canons.
  • Home for lunch, nap, and a walk. It was a beautiful fall day ... except that it's May.
  • Worked through some emails ... one series involving setting up a "makeup" visitation for one lost to my illness.
  • Out to dinner at a Mexican place we hadn't tried yet--Los Agaves. We liked it.
  • Spent the evening putting meat on the bones of a sermon outline for Pentecost (next Sunday at Holy Trinity, Danville).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday

  • Usual weekday morning routine, at just a slightly slower tempo.
  • When I finally got settled in at my desk, the first item on my task list was to process about a dozen emails. When I went home for lunch at noon, that task had not yet been completed, though I did take some time out to put wax seals on two ordination certificates for next week, and on a Letter of Institution for this evening.
  • Lunch from LaBamba ("burritos as big as your head", but I ordered chicken tacos and pork enchiladas to share with Brenda).
  • As part of my "ease in gently" program, I didn't go back into the office, but indulged in a nice nap. Then I got back to the emails (with more having arrived by this time).
  • At 3:30, it was time to gather vestments, through them in the car, and hit the road for Champaign.
  • The Celebration of New Ministry for Fr Sean Ferrell at the Chapel of St John the Divine began at 6pm. Matthias anthem, Elgar Te Deum, soaring treble descants, and an organ sounding like an organ should sound--all in a night's work. Seriously, the English cathedral tradition is alive and well in Champaign, Illinois.
  • Back home right at the stroke of 11.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ascension Day

  • Surgery + four weeks ... the day I am allowed to drive once again and officially return to work, though I am not under any illusion that it can be at the same pace to which I was accustomed prior to my "cardiac incident" on March 25. Easy does it.
  • After arriving in the office around 9am, I discussed several ongoing issues with the Archdeacon, who has stepped in very graciously in some matters that would otherwise have been squarely on my plate. I'm very grateful.
  • Went into the cathedral to pray the morning office for Ascension Day.
  • Took care of some administrative chores pertaining to the impending retirement of a priest.
  • Devoted some prep time to the June 1 clergy day.
  • Prepared some material for the diocesan website.
  • Attended the 12:15 Ascension Day liturgy in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from Mickey D's, eaten at home. (I have a secret appetite, not often indulged, for Chicken McNuggets with hot mustard sauce.)
  • Finished the website task I began before lunch.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for the feast of the Visitation of the BVM, when (the eve, actually) I will be at St John's, Decatur making up a visitation I missed early in my convalescence.
  • Spent some initial interaction time with the readings for Proper 7 (June 23 at Redeemer, Cairo).
  • Recognizing that my energy was fading, I pleased just about anybody who might have anything to say on the subject and went home a little after 4. Changed clothes and fell into a pretty hard nap in the recliner. When I regained an adequate level of consciousness about an hour later, I spend 45 minutes on the treadmill before dinner.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Update: Surgery + Three Weeks

Recovery progress is very slow but very steady. I'm getting a modest amount of work done every day via internet and phone. I haven't taken any pain medication for nearly 48 hours now, and my "incision awareness" is lower every day. Showering and dressing is no longer the ordeal it was a couple of weeks ago. I'm walking around the neighborhood every day, and gradually expanding my range. Broke the 5000 step barrier on my pedometer for the first time since surgery yesterday, and will do so again today. It still hurts a good bit when I cough, sneeze, or laugh, and there is certainly not yet a "spring" in my step. My heart rate--both resting and active--is also higher than I would like it to be, but I'm told this is quite normal after surgery, and that it will come down in time. I get very light-headed immediately upon standing up, but that, too, is par for the course, and it resolves in a matter of three or four seconds. 

I'm pre-cleared by my cardiologist in Chicago to begin driving again a week from today. It is my intention to preside as scheduled at the institution of Fr Sean Ferrell as rector of St John the Divine, Champaign on the 10th, and to make my visitation to Christ the King, Normal on the 12th. That's the news!