Monday, September 30, 2013

St Michael & All Angels (transferred)

On the road at a leisurely how from Shelbyville, Indiana, in time for lunch beginning the fall meeting of the Forward Movement board of directors, on which it is my joy to serve. We discussed a range of issues, from the mundane to the speculative. I'm most excited about a program called Renewal Works, about which the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Springfield will be hearing a lot more about from me over the coming months. 
Dinner was at a Scottish-themed restaurant (waiters in kilts) called Nicholson's. Good beer, which felt good on the sore throat that is gaining on me despite my attempts to keep it at bay with zinc lozenges.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Lord's Day (XIX Pentecost)

Up in time to attend the 8am Eucharist at St Anne's, Warsaw, IN, where I served as rector from 2007 until early 2011, when I moved to Springfield to take up my current work. It was my first time back. For any cleric, this is a slightly surreal experience. But it was a good one, and fun to reconnect with people ... and with the town that was our happy home for three and half years. After Mass, I met another couple of parishioners and friends, who attend the later service, for a quick breakfast at Mickey D's. 
Then it was a leisurely drive of 120 miles through the drizzle to Shelbyvile, where I had a hotel reservation 85 miles from Cincinnati, where I need to be at noon tomorrow for a meeting of the Forward Movement board. I checked in at 2:30, which left me lots of time to process my email inbox, rest a bit, walk a bit, and get some other odds and ends done.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday

Reported to the Van Noord Arena at Calvin College at 9:30 for a liturgy rehearsal for the consecration of Whayne Hougland as Bishop of Western Michigan. My role was just to be part of the gaggle of bishops who lay hands on the ordinand at the appropriate moment, so not much rehearsing was required on my part, but it nonetheless served a larger purpose for me to be there. Then, back in a vesting room, there was the curious ritual of the signing and sealing the new bishop's ordination certificate, along with an extra one for the archives. Then we had some unplanned and unstructured plenary conversation with the Presiding Bishop until it was time to get vested and line up for the procession. These occasions are always terribly important in the life of a diocese. Of course, it's still near enough to my own consecration that it sets off all sorts of associations and memories, all very positive. We got the deed done.

I next proceeded south on U.S. 131 and eventually ended up in Warsaw, Indiana, where I am bunking for the night, having enjoyed dinner with some former parishioners. Tomorrow I will attend the early liturgy at St Anne's before wending my way further south.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday (St Vincent de Paul)

  • Up and at 'em in time to arrive for a 9am worship service (at Morningside United Methodist Church in Normal) marking the beginning of the Annual Assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches. I was the preacher. It was a "raw and uncut" homiletical feed because I really didn't have any time to prepare, but the Holy Spirit, as always, was faithful.
  • I ducked out of the meeting early because I needed to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a dinner engagement with other bishops attending tomorrow's consecration of Whayne Hougland as Bishop of Western Michigan. But I neglected to take into account either the time zone difference or the likelihood of a traffic jam on I-80 either side of the Illinois-Indiana line, so I didn't make it. However, I am safely ensconced in the Prince Conference Center of Calvin College. Tomorrow's liturgical event is on the Calvin campus.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday (Lancelot Andrewes)

Glad to be back home, but it's just a pit stop.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon on some pastoral/administrative concerns.
  • Fleshed out the texts for three sermons: Proper 22 in Salem, Proper 23 in Alton, and Proper 25 in Bloomington. 
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Working from previously-confected skeletal notes, began drafting my synod address. Probably a couple of hours of work yet left on that task.
  • Departed at 4 to read Evening Prayer in the cathedral, then go home and pack for five nights away and drive to Bloomington for a 6:30 dinner with other "judicatory leaders" (what an infelicitous expression) in advance to tomorrow's Annual Assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sermon for Proper 20

St Joseph of Arimathea, Hendersonville, TN -- Luke 16:1-13

If you were to inquire of anyone who has lived with me or worked with me closely, you will probably learn that I am—to an extraordinary degree perhaps—a creature of habit.  I am most comfortable when the incidental details of my life are routine and predictable. The things I eat for breakfast are on about a four day rotation. I like the various icons and alerts on my electronic devices set up in a certain way, and I get out of bed at precisely the same time every workday morning. I realize, of course, that I am not the only one who has likes and dislikes, quirks and pet peeves. We all do, to one extent or another. Most of the time, we look at these as little things. That’s why we don’t want anybody to mess with them; we don’t want to have to be thinking about them. I want a car that starts every time I turn the key, with vents that blow cold in the summer and warm in the winter, and otherwise keeps quiet and doesn't call attention to itself. We tend to look at the “little things” as mere infrastructure, material details, as the skeleton on which real life is hung, not as something that has substantial significance and meaning in its own right. The “little things” are so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives that we overlook them (or get irritated when they don’t let us overlook them). They are trees, but my life is a forest, and it’s the forest I’m really interested in.

Realizing that the little things are indeed little things can lead to either of two quite different responses. Some people become puritanical. If caffeine and alcohol are little things, then I’m not going to have any coffee or beer. If clothing is a little thing, then I’m going to live in a community where everyone wears the same uniform. If automobiles are little things,then—who needs one?—I’ll just use a horse and buggy instead.

Others come to the opposite conclusion from the same realization. Life is an eternal frat party. If alcohol is a “little thing,” then what does it matter if I drink to excess? If my body is just a material detail, a little thing, then what does it matter who I sleep with? If transportation is just part of the infrastructure of my life, then I may as well drive a BMW and fly first class, right? If money is but a little thing, then…hey, I’ll see you at the nearest casino!

I hope you realize I’m about to tell you that both these attitudes—the puritan and the party animal—fall short of the mark. In fact, I’ll let Jesus tell you, as if he were speaking to us in the second decade of the twenty-first century, rather than to his original listeners in the first:

There was once a loan officer who did most of his work in the field, at his customers’ places of business. He enjoyed the travelling part of his job, especially the fact that he had an expense account. One day, the internal auditor took a closer-than-usual look at this loan officer’s receipts, made a few phone calls, and discovered that a great many of them were forged. The guy was living high at the expense of the company’s bottom line. So when the crooked loan officer checked his voice mail, he heard that the bank president wanted to see him in the home office first thing the next morning. Well, he knew that he was too old to find a job at another bank, and too proud to live on unemployment. So he had to think of something fast. He dashed off to a half dozen of his best accounts and had each of them sign new loan documents cutting their original interest rate in half, and, for a couple of them, discounting the principal amount as well. The cusomers were, needless to say, very happy with Mr High Living Loan Officer, and more to the point, likely to look kindly on him in his approaching hour of need. The next morning, of course, the bank president fired him, but he did so with an admiring grin on his face: “You old son-of-a-gun, that’s some golden parachute you went out and got for yourself!”

At the end of this parable, Jesus commends the corrupt loan officer, not for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. And he suggests that his own followers should be as wise and prudent and shrewd with the “little things” in their lives as the corrupt employee was with the little things in his life, only to a worthier end. In fact, Jesus seems to be implying that the little things can in fact become tools in the development of such wisdom and prudence and shrewdness. Those who show that they can handle the little things well give evidence of their trustworthiness to take care of the truly big things.

But what does it mean to be “faithful in little” in order to be found worthy to be “faithful in much?” There’s one word that sums it up, a word that we tend to hear with some frequency at this time of year, and that word is stewardship. Good stewardship starts with the realization that everything I have—every coin in my pocket, every dollar in my bank account, every hair on my head, every blank space in my appointment calendar, the person on the other end of every phone call I made, every breath that I draw—has been given to me, not outright, but in trust. I am a steward, and I will one day have to turn in my receipts to the only auditor whose opinion ultimately counts, and they better not be forged. Good stewardship continues with the wise and prudent and shrewd use of the entrusted resources toward the expression of the values and the fulfillment of the purposes of the Kingdom of God, and, lest I be accused of not being specific and clear, the primary concrete token of Christian stewardship is the tithe—10% of our income given, no strings attached, to the ministry of the local parish church at which we worship.

Now let’s work it back the other way. Tithing is good stewardship, good management of the “little things.” Good stewardship expresses the wisdom and shrewdness appropriate to Christian discipleship.  And good Christian disciples are joyful, purpose-driven, confident about their future, and at peace with God. They are faithful in little, and therefore given the opportunity to be faithful in much. If you can find a better deal out there, take it!

Amen.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

Day One of the fall meeting of the House of Bishops is now history. Read all about it here (among other places). Now I lay me down to sleep.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday (Edward Bouverie Pusey)

After a treadmill workout, spent the morning packing and otherwise preparing for some time away. We got underway right at 2pm and arrived at the Airport Marriott in Nashville around 8:30. Checked in, got settled, grabbed a bite (Brenda and I split a shrimp and grits appetizer ... mmmmm), saw some people. The opening session of the House of Bishops begins at 9 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday (Hildegard of Bingen)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Visited with the Archdeacon and the Provost--mostly debrief on last Saturday's Celebration of a New Ministry.
  • Discussed some travel arrangements with the Administrator.
  • Prayerfully took a first look at the readings for the the Mass at which I am the preacher on Thursday, October 24, in the Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, Nashotah House.
  • Worked on getting several documents into final form for submission to the Association of Theological Schools Board of Commissioners on behalf of Nashotah House.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Resumed work on the ATS documents.
  • Took care of some loose ends relating to the celebration of the Eucharist at the annual diocesan synod next month.
  • Planned and scheduled individual actions for the preparation of sermons for the period beginning Advent Sunday and concluding on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.
  • Brief devotions in the cathedral; Evening Prayer in the car on the way home (it was already 6ish).
  • After dinner: online lodging reservations for some consecutive overnight travel related to the Illinois Conference of Churches, the consecration of the next Bishop of Western Michigan, and the Forward Movement board meeting, all around the turn of this month into the next.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

  • Presided, preached, and confirmed at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Attended the pre-synod meeting of the Hale Deanery.
  • After a dinner stop in Litchfield, we got home a little past 7pm.

Sermon for Proper 19

St Andrew's, Carbondale--Luke 15:1-10; Exodus 32:1, 7-14; I Timothy 1:12-17

As the economy tanked over the years following the crash of 2008, a lot of good people have had to make some awfully difficult business decisions. Nothing personal, you know, but we have to lay a bunch of you off, or lay all of you off, or close the plant, or move the plant to another state or another country where the labor is cheaper. Sorry about that, but there’s nothing we can do. You understand, don’t you? It’s just a business decision.

Various versions of this story have played themselves out all over the country, including several areas of Illinois, and certainly affecting Carbondale with the university hiring freeze. The phrase “business decision” may or may not be invoked, but the underlying assumption is the same—the assumption that the financial best interest of a corporation—otherwise known as the bottom line—must take precedence over the welfare of employees, customers, or whomever.

Now, I realize that very often such an action truly is necessary for the survival of the company. Nonetheless, “business decision” is an interesting expression. It’s supposed to remove the moral stigma that would otherwise be attached to any action that causes large-scale economic or social or emotional dislocation.  I mean, if you deliberately set out to throw someone into bankruptcy, or put unbearable stress on a marriage, or cause feelings of depression and despair—why, that’s morally inexcusable, and possibly even a crime.  But if it’s a “business decision”, that’s a different story. If an attempt to improve operating efficiency, or show some more black ink on the quarterly report, has the same negative effects as I’ve just mentioned, then it’s, well, a business decision. 

This sort of moral irony has a pervasive influence on the way we as a society think and act.  Almost on a daily basis, it influences the decisions made by legislators and government officials on the way public revenues are going to be allocated.  It even influences—and I’m sure this comes as no shock to anyone—our relationships as members of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church. For several years prior to entering seminary 27 years ago, I was closely involved, as a lay person, with the preparation of adults and young people for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. In the parish where I was a member, we chose to follow an unusually intense and fairly long process modeled after the catechumenate of the ancient church. We had a team of between three and five lay catechists, and each candidate was linked with a sponsor who also attended the instruction sessions.  We met as a group two hours a week for the better part of nine months.  During Lent, the candidates were prayed for by name at each Sunday liturgy.  Yet, the parish in which we were doing this was not a particularly large one, so in any given year, it was very typical for us to have only two or three candidates in the process. On more than one occasion it was suggested to us—and on more than one occasion we on the catechetical team suspected ourselves—that this was a terribly inefficient way of meeting our objectives.  To put it in business terms, it was a terribly labor intensive process, wasteful of the human resources that are so precious to any parish church, large of small.  A good “business decision” would have been to find a different way of doing things. 

And now, all these years later, that parish continues to hang in there with the inefficient and wasteful process of the catechumenate.  Most of us will go along with the severe but compelling logic of the business decision only so far, when something deep in our hearts rebels with a resounding “Yes, but ...”—or even a contemptuous “So what?” While I was in seminary, I had the moving experience of touring a state of Wisconsin facility for the severely developmentally disabled, people who are physically, mentally, and emotionally completely helpless. The ratio of care-givers to care-receivers in that place was astonishingly low.  Care and concern and affection were lavished on these people.  About that same time, I became familiar with the work of the now-departed Roman Catholic scholar and spiritual director Henri Nouwen, who chose to leave the prestigious academic community of Harvard University and make his home in Canada, in a community dedicated to the same sort of developmentally disabled men and women whom I met in Wisconsin. Father Nouwen died while living in that community.

From the standpoint of the most efficient use of tax dollars, the kind of care I saw given at Central Wisconsin Center was not a sound business decision—the patients could be kept alive in a sort of warehouse fashion for less money.  From the standpoint of Father Nouwen’s “career path”, his departure from Harvard was not a sound business decision, for many reasons. Yet few of us, I would imagine, are inclined to stand up and cry “foul” at either of these examples of “wastefulness”.  There is an impulse in the human soul that challenges the ethical supremacy of the business decision. 

I would suggest to you this morning that these instincts are telltale signs of nothing less than the image of God present in human nature. Today’s liturgy proclaims to us that God does not always, if ever, make what we would recognize as a sound business decision.  In effect, the scribes and Pharisees who complained about Jesus’ consorting with tax collectors and sinners were accusing him of making a poor business decision. 
One would think that, from a P.R. standpoint, it would have been in Jesus’ best interest to cultivate a relationship with the religious establishment—you know, a weekly golf date with the High Priest or an occasional round of drinks for the Sanhedrin. He certainly did not help his prestige by socializing with those who collaborated with the Roman Empire or whose occupations were less than morally circumspect. But Jesus responds to this indictment with the parable of the shepherd who abandoned 99% of his capital assets in order to recover the 1% which was lost. And he didn’t leave the 99 in the safety of a sheepfold or a bank vault, but, the text says, in the wilderness, where they would be easy pickings for a hostile takeover by wolves or ... whatever.  If there was ever a bad business decision, this was it! 

Yet, Jesus suggests, such is the nature of God—to be wastefully labor intensive in pursuing each individual wayward human soul—in pursuit of your wayward human soul, and mine. Indeed, the image of Jesus the good shepherd, with sheep #100 lovingly carried on his shoulders, warms our hearts and fills us with gratitude, for we are that sheep.  In our Old Testament lesson from Exodus, God, as chairman of the board, announces to Moses, as chief executive officer, a business decision he had made. 
There would be a corporate restructuring of the nation of Israel which would involve “out-placing”—perhaps with a few well-directed thunderbolts—the “human resources” of the company. Moses couldn’t argue with the logic of the decision as it was presented on paper—or, perhaps, carved in stone.  Each of the twelve divisions of the company showed a disastrous bottom line on the quarterly report. In fact, there was strong evidence of a planned employee takeover with the intention of selling out to a competitor.  Yet, as much as the move made sense, Moses didn’t like it.  He felt like the plan betrayed the memory of the company’s founding fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God wasn’t so sure, but purely out of his regard for his CEO, he abandoned the restructuring plan and called back the thunderbolts. 

And when we hear the story once again of God changing his mind and sparing the people of Israel after the intercession of Moses, even though they had lapsed into infidelity and idolatry, our hearts are warmed and filled with gratitude, for we, too, are, as the hymn says, “prone to wander”. We, too, have lapsed into infidelity and idolatry and are the beneficiaries of God’s bad business decisions—his abundant, labor-intensive, inefficient, and wasteful grace shed abroad into our hearts even at this moment by the Holy Spirit. 

As St Paul reminds the young bishop Timothy, and us, in today’s epistle: “The saying is sure, and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. ... [we have] received mercy that in [us] ... Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.”  Amen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Holy Cross Day

  • Morning Prayer in my recliner.
  • Customary Saturday morning exercise, with the walking component accomplished on the treadmill, as I'm not yet acclimated to a brisk 48 degrees outdoors.
  • At the cathedral-office complex in time for an 11am Celebration of a New Ministry, as we inducted Fr Keith Roderick as Provost of St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Grateful for about an hour of rest at home before packing and hitting the road at 3 for Carbondale, where we enjoyed a delightful dinner with vestry and spouses, hosted by the inimitable Trish Guyon.
  • Bedding down now in Carbondale, looking forward to our visit with St Andrew's tomorrow.

Sermon for Holy Cross Day (Institution of Fr Keith Roderick as Provost of St Paul's Cathedral)


St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield--Galatians 6:14-18, John 12:31-36a 

“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
I find myself grateful for the peculiar circumstances under which we are celebrating this feast day of the Holy Cross. There’s something about celebrating a new shared ministry between a particular priest and a particular congregation in a particular diocese, all under the sign of the cross of Christ, that is quite compelling. Of course, we already get the chance to focus attention on the cross of Christ during Holy Week, but it’s different then. On Palm Sunday and Good Friday, when we read the narrative of our Lord’s passion and death, and on Maundy Thursday, when we’re with him in the Garden of Gethsemane anticipating that suffering, we are very much in the moment. The cross is so close to us that it dominates our field of view; we can see little else. Moreover, under those circumstances, it’s difficult to escape being overwhelmed by the sheer horror of it all.

Yet, there are aspects of the cross’s meaning and significance and mystery that cannot be clearly viewed close up. We need to step back and get a little bit of distance—away from the immediacy of the stripping and nailing and bleeding and dying—in order to view and appreciate them. Today’s celebration, as we mark a new chapter in the long and venerable life of this cathedral parish, offers us just that amount of distance. We can see the cross from the perspective of what was accomplished there, from the perspective of the Christ who was not only crucified, but risen, ascended, glorified, and continually making intercession on our behalf. We can see the cross, not as a symbol of shame, but as an emblem of victory; not as a token of defeat, but as a sign of triumph. Because of the cross, human suffering—every grief, every sorrow, every petty annoyance—is redeemed and transformed. Because of the cross, death itself is transformed, and becomes the gateway to true and unending life in Christ. So we glory in the cross of Christ, and lift high the cross, knowing it to be the very means of life and health.

Now, I could probably quit right there, and know that I have duly proclaimed good news on this occasion. But as you might guess, I’m not going to, because, somewhere between the extreme close-up view of Good Friday, and the cosmic view of the Celestial Banquet, is the daily view of ordinary life. Practically in the same breath with which he glories in the cross of Christ, St Paul, writing to the Galatians, tells us that, by the cross, we are crucified to the world, and the world to us. There’s something in this notion of being crucified to the world and the world to us that suggests that the route from Calvary to the Celestial City is more than just a series of victory laps.

Allowing ourselves to be crucified to the world is, I would suggest, the hardest part of discipleship, the hardest part of responding to our Lord’s invitation to take up our cross daily and follow him, and the most challenging part, I would say, of life in a church community, of life in a web of ordered relationships, under the leadership of a particular pastor and priest. “Crucified to the world.” The world is where we live. We have a place in the world. The world tells us who we are ethnically. It says, “You’re African, or European, or Asian.” The world tells us who we are politically: “You’re American, or British, or Brazilian.” The world tells us who we are economically: “You’re affluent, or poor, or middle class.” And although we don’t often think of it this way, it’s the world that tells us who we are religiously: “You’re from Pakistan? You must be Muslim. You’re from Utah? You must be Mormon. You’re from Cambodia? You must be Buddhist. You’re from Ireland? You must be Roman Catholic. You’re from Tennessee? You must be Southern Baptist.” The world gives us our sense of identity, the world gives us our sense of worth, the world gives us our sense of security.

So, to hear that we should be crucified to the world, and the world to us, might make us feel a bit like refugees. And so it might be appropriate to observe that there is a long tradition of thinking of church buildings as places of sanctuary, places of refuge. This cathedral church symbolizes both the parish community of St Paul’s and the larger community of the Diocese of Springfield—communities that aspire to be safe places, places of refuge from a world that wants to define people in every conceivable way. But I don’t mean “safe place” in the sense of merely making us comfortable, reinforcing our predispositions and prejudices. Rather, the community of the church helps us safely negotiate our interaction with reality but providing a way for us to face reality honestly and with some degree of hope. It is in the “realness” of life together in church community that we grow as disciples by being conformed to the shape of the cross. We bring our brokenness here to be healed, not merely to be anesthetized. This is the challenge for Fr Roderick and the people of St Paul’s—to be authentic, real, to have a tolerance for the pain that is associated with healing and growing and becoming something we are not yet.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all go out and find some trouble to get into. Trouble has a way of finding us soon enough. We don’t have to buy suffering; it comes free. The invitation in front of us on this celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross is to become more fully what we are, to live more and more into the identity we know we have. We who are in Christ have been crucified to the world and the world to us. If we are sick, or otherwise impaired physically, that doesn’t define us, because sickness is of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are whole because we are in Christ. If we lack the financial means to buy the necessities of life, that doesn’t define us. Money is of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are rich, because we are in Christ, to whom all of heaven and of earth belong. What is his is ours. If we are drowning in shame and regret because of our own sin and foolishness, that doesn’t define us. Shame and regret are of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven because we are in Christ. If we imprisoned by addiction to alcohol or drugs or gambling or sex, that does not define us. Addiction is of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. We who are in Christ find perfect freedom in serving him. If we are paralyzed by fear, that fear does not define us. Fear is oh-so-much of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. We who are in Christ have been swallowed up by the overwhelming love of God that casts out all fear. And we who are mortal—there’s no “if” here because we’re all mortal—we who are mortal are not defined by our mortality. Death is of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. I’m delighted that it is the custom in this cathedral to sing this ancient chant during the celebration of Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life to those who dwell in the tomb.”  As St Paul, the patron of this church, urges us, “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.”

Alleluia and Amen. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday (St Cyprian)

  • Morning Prayer in the car en route to a 9am meeting in Decatur. St John's is hosting the 136th synod of the diocese, so I got together with the rector and the music director (and the deacon in the room to keep us honest) to plan the details of the synod Eucharist on October 11. Back in the office around 10:30.
  • Played with hot wax, preparing the Letter of Institution for the celebration tomorrow of the new shared ministry between St Paul's Cathedral and Fr Keith Roderick.
  • After processing a few emails, I got to work on a rough draft of the sermon I expect to deliver in the cathedral of the see city of Tabora (Tanzania) when I lead a delegation from Springfield to our companion diocese in November. 
  • Lunch at a downtown Mexican-ish joint with Fr Gene Tucker, for the purpose of taking counsel together over the future of two Eucharistic Communities in the Eastern Deanery that are currently under his oversight.
  • Back to work on the Tabora sermon.
  • Took a phone call from Canon Mark Stevenson, a fellow board member of the Living Church Foundation, concerning some nominating committee issues.
  • Took a phone call from Bishop Donald Parsons, retired of Quincy and now honorary assistant (the honor is all ours) here in Springfield, over a laundry list of questions and concerns.
  • Resumed work on the Tabora sermon, finishing it just in time for ...
  • ... Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday (John Henry Hobart)

  • Customary Thursday morning exercise routine; in the office around 9:20.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some Living Church Foundation business left over from yesterday's phone call.
  • Produced a working script for this Sunday's homily at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Dental hygiene appointment (my favorite thing!).
  • Finished writing, refined, and printed a working text of my homily for Saturday's institution of Fr Roderick as Provost of St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Tied up a few loose ends in the ongoing project of preparing for Nashotah House's evaluation by the ATS.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday

  • In the office nearly a half hour earlier than usual, but found it difficult to get focused and get traction.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • My day for the noon Mass, so I made sure all was ready: missal marked, readings found, Prayers of the People prepared, homily mentally plotted.
  • Refined and printed my sermon for this Sunday, at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Attended to some items of administrivia.
  • Laid out the broad strokes of a sermon for Proper 25--October 27 at St Matthew's, Bloomington.
  • Presided and preached at the regular 12:15 cathedral chapel liturgy, celebrating the votive Mass, "For the Nation."
  • Went to lunch at Clay's Popeye's BBQ on South Grand Avenue East, with the Provost and the Archdeacon.
  • A little bit more administrivia.
  • Substantive phone conversation with Fr Thomas Fraser, president of the Living Church Foundation board, in our capacity as two of the three members of the nominating committee.
  • Consulted with the Administrator over some matters related to the upcoming synod.
  • Replied by email to some snail mail correspondence that's been sitting in the hopper for a couple of weeks.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for the synod Eucharist (lesser feast of St Philip the Deacon). Will still need a lot more attention.
  • Worked on some clergy deployment-related issues.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday

Three scheduled obligations today: 
  • A meeting with Fr Brien Koehler, a priest of the diocese and a colleague on the Nashotah House board, to talk through some of the issues around the accreditation review process.
  • A "webinar" offered by the Association of Theological Schools on issues related to the same subject of my meeting with Fr Koehler.
  • A conference call between some of the Communion Partner bishops who visited Canterbury last month and the three CP rectors who will soon be making the same trip.
Before, between, and after those items, I managed to clear out my email inbox. That was it.
Read both morning and afternoon offices in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Lord's Day (XVI Pentecost)

Enjoyed a thoroughly energizing visit with the people of St George's, Belleville--met with candidates for baptism and confirmation yesterday afternoon, dinner with vestry and spouses last night, confirmations at both services this morning (four early, one late), blessed the newly-renovated Godly Play room, stimulating adult forum interaction, and an adult baptism at the main liturgy (nothing more fun than that). Then ... relaxing lunch with Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman. St George's is a hoppin' place. May their tribe increase.

Sermon for Proper 18

St George's, Belleville--Luke 14:25-33, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Philemon 1-20

They say a preacher’s job is to both comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Brenda occasionally tells me I do a little too much afflicting and not quite enough comforting. I don’t know; she may be right. For the last several weeks, at least, the appointed scripture readings have tended to be challenging, and lend themselves to calls for decisive action and sacrificial behavior. The problem is compounded by the fact that a preacher never knows exactly who’s going to show up on any given Sunday morning, and what baggage they’ll be bringing with them—especially a preacher like this one who’s in front of a different congregation every week. In my experience, from time to time, someone walks through the doors of the church who is a virtual blank slate in terms of Christian faith or practice. When this happens, chances are the person is in some sort of internal crisis, or is at least seriously disturbed about his or her place in the world. And among those who attend regularly, I’m certainly aware that behind smiling faces there is a tremendous amount of pain, fear, and guilt. All these folks need to hear about a Jesus who not only says “Follow me,” but goes on with something like, “and I will give you rest.” They need to hear good news of deliverance, pardon, and hope. And, fortunately, deliverance, pardon, and hope make up the mother lode from which we mine the treasures of the gospel of Christ.

Now, a Jesus who says “Come unto me, and I’ll make you feel a whole lot better” is going to be a popular fellow, especially if he backs up what he says with miracles of healing, free food in the wilderness, and wholesome advice on pleasing God and dealing with family and social issues. These things would tend to build him a base of followers that would keep growing and growing. So, as we might expect, Jesus had quite a following. The more he ministered, the larger the crowd grew.

Christian preachers and teachers and Christian churches are correct and wise when they pay attention to people’s needs and desires, and to how a relationship with Jesus Christ in the company of the church can meet those needs and desires. We are not dishonorable or hypocritical when we address the “What’s in it for me?” question. And, from time to time, churches that are very good at answering the “What’s in it for me?” question attract a huge base of members, and become very large. By just about any standard, they could be considered “successful” churches.

There are also, however, those who come to church in any given week who are not in acute personal crisis at that moment; who have their doubts, but are essentially people of faith; who have their share of sorrows and anxieties, but are not suffering inordinately.  Yet, as people of faith, as practicing Christians, they may be…what’s the polite way to say this?... they may be slacking off. They could be more faithful in worship, they could be more disciplined in their prayers, they could be less fearful in their stewardship, they could be more focused in the discernment and exercise of their spiritual gifts. And when a pastor looks out over a congregation and sees these people, he or she thinks, “Here is someone who needs to be challenged; here is someone who needs to be prodded; here is someone who is perhaps a little too comfortable, and needs to be a little bit more afflicted. Here is a complacent soldier who has forgotten there’s a war on, and all hands need to be at their battle stations. To these folks, Jesus says, “Follow me,” and then adds stuff like we find in today’s gospel:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

In fact, this theme of “costly discipleship” runs through the readings from Luke’s gospel that we’ve been encountering over the past several weeks. They definitely represent an “afflict the comfortable” approach, don’t they?  Today, Jesus tells us point blank to “count the cost” before making a decision to become his disciple. “If you’re going to hang around me,” he says, “I can promise you that it’s going to be tough sledding. So don’t sign up if you haven’t got the stomach for it.” Now, this would undoubtedly have the effect of tending to thin out the crowd of Jesus’ groupies. In fact, one of the commentaries I consulted suggested that Jesus was manifestly nervous around crowds, and didn’t like them, and said these things intentionally in an attempt to make some of them go away. In any case, he no doubt disappointed many of those who had great expectations for him. He would not make a very successful politician, with his message of surrender and sacrifice and counting the cost.

So, just what does it cost a person to be a Christian disciple today? I could give you a sophisticated long answer with lots of twists and turns and nuances, but the short answer is this:  It costs us everything. You’ve probably seen those phony IRS forms that contain just one question: “How much money did you earn?” and one instruction: “Send it in.” Well, that’s a nice joke about taxes, but as far as Christian discipleship is concerned, it’s the dead-on truth. Following Jesus requires the surrender of the whole of our lives, all that we are and all that we have.

The first outward and visible act of surrender a Christian makes takes place in Baptism, and it’s ratified in Confirmation. On those occasions, we give God a signed blank check.  Only the amount is not filled in. We just tell him, “Whatever it takes, it’s yours. If I have it, it’s yours.” The actual cost will be revealed only as time goes by.  It’s only as time goes by that the precise amount gets filled in. We would certainly never do this for a contractor to work on our house, or a mechanic to work on our car. But we do this for Jesus, because it’s what he asks of us; it’s what he requires of us.  Following Jesus comes with a cost.

As we grow into the Christian identity we were given in baptism, we give Jesus all that we are—our core identity, our sense of self.  Many years ago, a friend sought my pastoral counsel on a matter of great importance to him. He had just finished his doctorate in music, and had a nice job as a university professor and choral conductor. But he also felt very deeply a call to Holy Orders, to become a priest.  And he had, in my opinion, the right set of gifts and skills to serve quite effectively as a priest. The problem I saw was that he wanted to script how it was all going to happen; he wanted to be a priest/professor. He wanted to direct the university choir and then be able to hear his students’ confessions and give them absolution after they poured out their hearts to him, as people are prone to do with someone of his apparent empathy and personal magnetism. But what I told him was that he needed to be willing to take “Doctor” and place it on the altar and let go of it in order to become “Father.”  That was the “cost” he needed to “count” if he was going to respond to his vocation to be a priest. I further told him that I suspected the Lord would probably give “Doctor” right back to him, and that the academic priesthood he imagined for himself would indeed come to pass. But first he needed to surrender, fully and without reservation, that title that he had worked so hard and so long to earn. He needed to count the cost of following Jesus.

And sooner or later, we discover that, as cost-counting disciples of Jesus, we reach the point of giving him our affection and our emotional loyalty. For some, this comes naturally and easily. For others, it’s a habit that needs to be cultivated intentionally. But how blessed we are, as disciples, when we can say simply, “I love Jesus from the bottom of my heart.” Learning to love Jesus is part of the cost of discipleship.

Eventually, we learn that what Jesus asks of us is all that we are and all that we have. We give him our time, which is an incredibly precious commodity in our culture of constant busyness and demanded productivity. We give him our money—checking, savings, investments, cash in the mattress and the contents of our piggy banks and in the case of Philemon in today’s epistle, a “human asset” named Onesimus. Not to worry, though—he gives us back 90% of it to cover the expense of getting through life on this planet, but we need to come to the point of realizing that even that 90% isn’t really ours. God just lets us use it so we can learn gratitude and discipline and faithfulness and all those good things. In the end, he’s even going to want that part back. A cost-counting disciple knows this.

And, we also give him our relationships. The phrase “forsaking all others” that we associate with the marriage service applies even more directly and appropriately to a disciple’s commitment to Jesus as Lord.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the answer to the question I’ve alluded to but never answered: Just what is in it for me? Why would anyone want to become a disciple of Jesus when it costs so much? Here’s the answer: When we surrender all, no strings attached, God gives us back those things that are necessary for our welfare and our happiness. But in doing so, he first repacks and re-labels all those things. He puts them in a context that gives them transcendent meaning. He makes our lives like a graphic presentation generated by a certain popular software program—our lives have Power and they have a Point! As a result of following Jesus, our lives have purpose and direction. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, as we are conformed to the cross of Christ in and through all our doubts and fears, in and through all the guilt and pain that we carry around, we are also conformed to the love of God the Father. We are conformed to the power of God the Holy Spirit. We discover that by letting go of everything to follow Jesus, we have followed the advice of Moses to the children of Israel camped in the wilderness: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life.”

Indeed, choose life.

Amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday

After a morning of exercise and household puttering, Brenda and I left the house at 2pm, heading south toward Belleville. After a little construction detour, we arrived at St George's just a few minutes late for a 4pm meeting with six candidates for confirmation/-re-affirmation tomorrow, and one adult catechumen whom it will be my privilege to initiate into the Body of Christ through the sacrament of the font. Next it was dinner with the vestry at the home of Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman. Wonderful time. Looking forward to a great day tomorrow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday

  •  Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Two-hour conference call with a working group of the Nashotah House board of trustees. We are a bit "under the gun" as regards some work that needs to be accomplished in order to retain our accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. It is challenging, but we are making excellent progress. While these duties do indeed consume a noticeable portion of my time, when it all shakes out, I believe there is a net benefit to the diocese that I attempt to serve. It's not always quantifiable, but it's there.
  • The hour between the conference call and lunch was devoted to a series of consequent "house cleaning" tasks--emails, phone calls ... and just trying to recover some of the energy expended in the conversation.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home. (Yep, Chicken McNuggets with hot mustard sauce. Judge me if you must.)
  • Read, digested, and responded to a document related to an individual in the ordination process.
  • Mentally plotted a strategy for occasions when I might be required to offer an extemporaneous homily while visiting the Diocese of Tabora in November.
  • Reviewed by October Sunday visitation schedule and created various preparation-related tasks and reminders.
  • Cleared out my physical inbox: lots of scanning, tossing, and creating of more tasks.
  • Ignatian-style meditation on the gospel reading for Evening Prayer--a passage from the Passion according to St Mark.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday (Ss Boris & Gleb)

  • Customary Thursday morning exercise at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared (readings, Prayers of the People, think through a homily) for the 12:15pm Eucharist at the cathedral, which I was scheduled to celebrate.
  • Worked on my address to the annual Synod--broad strokes laid out and a few of the macro-details filled in.
  • Attended briefly to some Nashotah House business.
  • Began close exegetical study of the readings on which I have been asked to preach in the cathedral in Tabora (Tanzania) when I am there in November.
  • Presided and preached the regular 12:15 liturgy in the cathedral chapel, celebrating Ss. Boris & Gleb.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Continued working on my Tabora sermon.
  • Back to Nashotah business. I'm spearheading a task group charged with proposing some fairly radical and far-reaching changes in the governing structure of the seminary, and there's a major conference call tomorrow.
  • The day was interspersed with email and Facebook exchanges regarding a sudden controversy over the relationship between the United Thank Offering (UTO), the national Episcopal Church Women (ECW), and the hierarchs at '815'. A lot more to come on that, I'm sure.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Administrator and the Archdeacon over an emerging situation.
  • Attended to some clergy pastoral care and some details of the clergy deployment process.
  • Met with Jason and Lisa Cerezo (of Emmanuel, Champaign), our new Current editors and website overseers. Lively discussion about communication strategy for the diocese. I was energized.
  • Lunch at home--leftover brisket from Monday.
  • Phone call with the Dean of Nashotah House, nailing down some details of our conversation yesterday.
  • Scheduled telephone appointment with a potential candidate for one of our clergy vacancies.
  • Worked on sermon development for Proper 19 (St Andrew's, Carbondale) and Proper 20 (a guest appearance at St Joseph of Arimathea parish in Hendersonville, TN on the weekend of the House of Bishops meeting in Nashville).
  • Laid out the broad strokes of a sermon for the installation of Fr Keith Roderick as Provost of St Paul's Cathedral, on the 14th of this month (Holy Cross Day).
  • Interspersed throughout the day were various emails attempting to solve the ongoing issue of in-country travel arrangements in Tanzania.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon and Administrator over some administrative details.
  • Took a phone call from the Dean of Nashotah House and a couple of his staff members, dealing with a presently emergent but quite passing concern.
  • Refined and printed a working script for this Sunday's homily, to be given at St George's, Belleville.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Visited a travel agency to see if I could get some help with making arrangements for three from the diocese (including YFNB) to visit our companion Diocese of Tabora (Tanzania) in November. They were not able to help much, and I left disappointed.
  • Continued to work on travel arrangements, from the comfort of my own office and computer. Made some incremental progress.
  • Met for an hour and a half with the Archdeacon and Fr Philip Boeve, priest-in-charge of St Barnabas, Havana, over some emerging concerns in that parish.
  • Continued to work on travel arrangements until I was astonished to see that it was already 6pm, so I packed it in and headed home, reciting the short form evening office in my car.
  • Spent most of my evening after dinner on the travel arrangements, finally booking flights between Chicago and Dar es Salaam on Turkish Airlines. Still have to finalize the plans between Dar es Salaam and Tabora.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sermon for Proper 17

St Christopher's, Rantoul--Luke 14:1, 7-14

Sometime during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, I had a career as a Boy Scout. It lasted all of about one month. The brevity of my own time in scouting, however, is no reflection of my opinion of the organization.  I have particular respect for Boy Scouts who make it to the rank of Eagle. Having served on an Eagle Scout board of review, I am very impressed with the strength of the requirements, and the strength of character needed in any young man who would attempt to meet them.  It’s a demanding process that many begin and few finish.  It’s not easy, but it is doable.  It can’t be done absent-mindedly or half-heartedly, but it can be done. The required steps are clearly laid out in the Boy Scout manual. Boys who attain the rank of Eagle Scout do so as a direct result of their own initiative and dedication. 

Many times, Christians think and act as though our standing before God, the process by which we achieve a right relationship with God, is the same sort of process as that by which a boy becomes an Eagle Scout. If a person can muster enough initiative and dedication, and follow the path of moral virtue that is clearly defined in places like the Ten Commandments, then he or she can earn God’s favor, can deserve, by right, to be accepted and approved by God.  The problem is, the more “successful” we become at cultivating such moral virtues, at deserving such favor and approval, the more prideful we become.  After all, look how much we’ve sacrificed and how much we’ve accomplished, to have reached such a point.  And the more prideful we become, by definition, the more we are alienated from God. 

It’s an ironically treacherous cycle that feeds on itself and grows until it catches us in its trap.  The more we “improve”, the more we appear to deserve God’s approval, and the less we think we need it!  Here we are—just and charitable and prudent and wise, all as a result of our initiative and dedication.  So who needs God now? What started out as growth toward God ends up in separation from God. We become like many religious people in Jesus’ time who were punctilious about observing every last detail of the law in an excruciatingly correct manner.  Time and again he warns them of the danger of pride and arrogance and that their very ability to keep the law is itself a gift from God. He was, in effect, trying to keep them humble. 

Perhaps Jesus was familiar with the story of a certain Rabbi Simeon, who had lived about a hundred years earlier. Rabbi Simeon was invited to a royal dinner party, and took the liberty of seating himself directly between the king and the queen, remarking that someone who had cultivated wisdom as much as he had deserved nothing less than to be seated among royalty. Wisdom may have been among Rabbi Simeon’s virtues, but humility was apparently not!

This may even be the background for the advice Jesus gives to his own disciples when they were invited to a dinner party given by a local dignitary. When you enter the dining room, take the least desirable position. Perhaps the host will then invite you to come at sit at the head table. But if you seat yourself at the head table, you run the risk of being embarrassed when you’re asked to make way for someone the host would rather have there. Now this advice that Jesus gives is neither particularly original—very similar versions are found in other literature of the time—nor is it particularly profound—its merit is rather obvious. But generation upon generation of men and women have found it extremely difficult to put into practice! 

Humility does not come naturally or easily to most of us. It’s a virtue that is scorned by our peers as often as it is admired. We Americas in particular, with our heritage of self-reliant frontier individualism, are apt to get a lump in our throat when we hear Frank Sinatra sing “I Did It My Way”.  This is the opposite of humility: arrogant pride, the rebellious assertion of one’s independence from God. Such pride is the root, the wellspring, of all other sin, because it cuts us off from God.  Real virtue, however, is grounded not in pride, but in humility, the kind of humility that is the only possible result of walking closely with God. 

If you drive by just about any school playground in America on a Saturday afternoon when the weather is mild, there’s a good chance that you’ll find young people there playing basketball.  And at each of these informal games, there will be one or two players who stand out among their peers for their ability, who set the standard of play to which everyone else aspires.  But if LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were to show up and offer to go two-on-two against whoever the local hotdog basketball players in that place are, what do you think is going to happen? In the presence of real basketball ability, any local schoolyard hotdog is going to be humbled. 

Your Bishop takes a certain rather small amount of satisfaction in his accomplishments as a cook. I’ve dabbled with Chinese food for 30 years, and picked up some Louisiana cuisine about 20 years ago when we lived there. More recently I’ve been trying to learn Mexican cooking, and even venture a bit into barbecue.  But if, say, Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay were to step out of the television set into my kitchen, I assure you I would not be talking about my cooking ability.  I would be humbled.  In fact, the hotdog basketball player, and the amateur chef would all be the first to acknowledge their own insignificance in the presence of authentic excellence and greatness.  They would attempt to focus attention away from themselves and onto the source of such greatness. To do otherwise would be embarrassingly foolish.  

I would like to think that, having had chef Paul Prudhomme in my kitchen, I would want to have him back again and again, just to delight in the beauty of what he does with food.  Having once witnessed and experienced cooking excellence, I would want to participate in it again and again.  And while my attention is focused on the master chef, not thinking of myself at all, I would probably, in the process, become a pretty terrific cook! 

When we walk closely with God we experience such authentic holiness that we can see clearly that we have none of our own.  We’re humbled to the point where we can see how un-humble we are, how inadequate our humility is. But humility is a virtue that we can’t aim for directly.  In fact, a humble person is never aware of his or her own humility, because to be aware of it is to lose it.  Humility is the habit of looking to God alone as the source of our self-esteem.  Let me say that again:  Humility is the habit of looking to God alone as the source of our self-esteem. 

So growth in humility cannot occur if we focus on growth in humility.  We cannot aim for it and work toward it the way a Boy Scout aims at the rank of Eagle. Growth in humility is a side-effect, an indirect result, of our walking closely with God, of making him our focus, our delight, and our joy. If I want to become a good cook, my chances are much improved if I hang around a good cook, and simply take delight in that person’s mastery of the art.  If I want to become humble, my chances are much improved if I stop thinking about becoming humble, and concentrate instead on enjoying and adoring and serving Christ, the model of humility.  This is the way we derive our self-esteem from God, by hanging around him, in prayer, in the sacraments, and in the communal life of the church. 

When a soldier displays heroism on the battlefield, the only thing going through his mind is the task at hand: accomplishing the military objective, and saving the lives of his comrades. The one thing he is not thinking about is receiving a medal for his valor. Yet, eventually, a medal is what he receives.  If we follow this path of humility, if we reach the point where taking the least honorable seat at the dinner party becomes second nature to us, then we will eventually, in the ironic economy of the kingdom of God, be granted that which our arrogant pride would have sought but not found.  We will be granted the respect and admiration of our peers. We will hear the voice of the host of the banquet saying to us, “Friend, come up higher.”  And in the act of walking to the head table to accept the honor, we will, once again, be humbled.  Amen.