Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Still not completely put back together after yesterday, but I woke up some bit better and made the decision to make it a work day. Trying I intentionally move slowly and keep my inner stress level low, I got into the office only a little later than I ordinarily would. Conferred with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer over a range of administrative and pastoral issues that are in various stages of emerging, Phone conversations with two priests and one warden. Pulled together a full rough draft of a sermon for Epiphany I (January 12 at St Michael's, O'Fallon). Came home for lunch and didn't go back, but continued to work from home, mostly answering emails. In the evening, we actually socialized with some people whom we did not meet at any church, a bit of a rarity for us!
Monday, December 30, 2013
This was a rare Sunday with no scheduled visitation. So Brenda and I got out of the house in time to sit in the pews for the 9:15am Eucharist at the Church of St Michael & St George in the inner ring St Louis suburb of Clayton. Wonderful music, solid preaching. It was a joy to be there. We were delighted to run into our friend Bishop Ed Salmon (who was rector there for 12 years before he became Bishop of South Carolina), and he graciously invited us to lunch at the St Louis Country Club. As outside temperatures steadily plummeted, we complete phase two of our mission for the day by finding the one Trader Joe's in the area and doing a bit of shopping. Home around 3:45.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
The cough is still with me, and I still felt a bit puny, but no fever, so that is progress. Said goodbye to the last of our house guests and made a little progress on putting the place back together post-company. It was a joy to have our "extended nuclear" family with us for Christmas. I decided against my usual Saturday workout, hoping my body will appreciate the chance to heal. Took care of some administrivia via the internet and worked on my sermon for the last Sunday in January, when St Paul's Cathedral will celebrate their patronal festival.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Nasty cough ... fever ... that general run-over-by-a-truck feeling ... if it had to happen, this was probably the "least bad" time for it. So I spent most of the day in the recliner, with the denizens of a full house swirling around me. Quality snuggle time with the younger granddaughter, despite my condition. (It helps that my iPad has some kids' games on it.) Dealt with some emails and did a wee bit of sermon prep. Felt better toward the end of the day.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
The house is still full of children, spouses, and grandchildren. What a joy! I journeyed to Second Street to celebrate the midday Mass for St Stephen's Day and tie up a couple of loose ends in the office. Got a modest amount of work done (sermon prep, answering emails) from home in the afternoon, but mostly just laid back and enjoyed the company. Took #1 to the airport in the late afternoon for her flight home to NYC. The rest of us enjoyed a Chinese buffet dinner and a shopping expedition to Barnes & Noble.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield -- Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 89:1-29
Sure enough, we have tamed Christmas. A baby will usually do that. Brenda and I are in the stage of our life together now where we’re enjoying grandparenthood. Our two young granddaughters are no longer babies, but it hasn’t been that long, so the memory is still fresh. And when we’re with our extended family, there are lots of babies. We find that when we’re in a public place—in a restaurant or on an airplane—and we see a baby, we both instinctively smile, and if we manage to make eye contact with the little one, and provoke a smile in return, that’s an added bonus. Babies are interminably cute, so we are certainly attached to baby Jesus, who is appropriately the object of our attention and affection as we celebrate his nativity. We wish we could make eye contact with him as his mother holds him on her shoulder to get him to burp, and exchange smiles. As babies go, I’m sure Jesus was adorable, and we will all join our voices in tonight’s worldwide chorus of “Sleep in heavenly peace.”
But let’s be careful, shall we? Jesus is more than an adorable baby, and if we don’t ever let ourselves get past the manger, we’re going to find ourselves in some trouble. There was a Victorian hymn that talked about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Well, there’s some scriptural precedent for that sort of language, but it doesn’t give us a complete picture. The fact is, whatever picture we have of Jesus, it better include the notion that is he a dangerous subversive, destabilizing every status quo he comes in contact with. We see him as an adult, debating with the Pharisees and turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. But way back when he was a baby, an adorable baby getting burped on his mother’s shoulder and cracking a smile, the voice of the angel announced to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
That is some loaded language, my friends. The ears of these Hebrew shepherds would have heard “Christ” as “Messiah,” and Messiah is a title that delivers the full weight of everything associated in the mind of a patriotic Jew with the royal dynasty of David. As we read in Psalm 89: “I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him.” The word messiah literally means “anointed one.” When the prophet Samuel announced the shepherd boy David as the one whom God had chosen to be King of Israel, he poured oil on David’s head, he anointed David, making him a messiah. King David became a messianic prototype, and after his passing, the hope of Israel was always in the coming of another messiah, another anointed one, another king who would lead them into peace and prosperity. So when the shepherds on the Bethlehem hillside heard the angels tell them about a baby who was the Messiah, the Lord, that was exciting news. But it was also disturbing news, because the shepherds already had a king, they already had an anointed one who commanded their allegiance. His name was Herod, and Herod was not inclined to surrender his royal dignity to any pretender—even an adorable baby—without a struggle.
But the infant sought by the shepherds was not just Messiah. The angel called him Lord as well. This title is hugely prominent in our prayer and worship, and virtually non-existent in our ordinary speech. Our British cousins encounter it somewhat more frequently because they have titles leftover from medieval times that designate “lords” and “ladies.” Earlier this month I was with Lord Carey of Clifton, which is the honorific title given in his retirement to George Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury. In America, the closest we get is when we talk about a “landlord,” and that may be the only context in which we are apt to use the word in a non-religious way. So, since it’s such a “churchy” word for us, we are prone to take it for granted. But that’s a mistake the shepherds of Bethlehem would not have made. They knew who their lord was. His name was Octavian, known as Caesar Augustus. He lived far away in a place called Rome, but he ruled every corner of the known world, and his troops patrolled the very streets of Bethlehem, just a few yards from where the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night.
For the shepherds to acknowledge the adorable baby they found as Messiah, as King, meant that Herod was not King. Should word get back to Herod about that, their lives would be in jeopardy. And for these shepherds to acknowledge that Jesus was Lord meant that Caesar was not Lord, and even though Caesar lived further away than Herod did, that wasn’t a particularly safe acknowledgement to make either. No two ways about it: to acknowledge baby Jesus as either Messiah or Lord meant that they would surrender the luxury of continuing with life and business as usual. Something was bound to change. So it’s pretty amazing that they decided to show up at the manger and try to get the Anointed One of God, and the Lord of Heaven and Earth, to smile back at them when his mother gave him a burp.
The herald angels are once again inviting us to worship the newborn king. But we cannot do so honestly without asking the obvious corollary questions: If Jesus is King, whom are we going to dethrone in order to make room for him? If Jesus is Lord, who is, by implication, not Lord? These are not easy questions to answer because they employ language that we’re not accustomed to using outside the context of worship and prayer. But that doesn’t make the questions go away. The words King and Lord are not mere abstractions; they have concrete meaning. We may not bow low before a human being who wears a crown and holds the power of life and death over us, but there are nonetheless objects of our ultimate allegiance, those things that we consider to be of ultimate worth, surpassing all else. This isn’t the occasion to list all the possibilities, but if any of us has one that isn’t named Jesus, then we’ve got a problem with the celebration of Christmas. We cannot honestly come to this crèche or this altar or sing “Glory to the newborn King!” when something or somebody else is functionally the lord or monarch of our lives.
Those pesky angels. Why do they have to do that? Luring us in with an adorable baby and then turning our lives upside down. Thank-you, Jesus. May our lives indeed never be the same. Amen.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
St John's, Centralia--Matthew 1:18-25, Romans 13:8-14, Isaiah 7:10-17
My wife and children, if you were to ask them, would readily verify one characteristic of the way I behave, and that is that I don't really like surprises. Good news, of course, is always welcome, whenever it arrives; that's not the kind of surprise I'm talking about. The situation that I find emotionally challenging is the one which asks me to make a last-minute, unanticipated change of plans. It has a tendency to make me just a wee bit grumpy.
It's a good thing my name is not Joseph, living in first-century Palestine, in the village of Nazareth. I don't know that I would have coped very well with finding out that my fiancée, with whom I myself had so far behaved as a perfect gentleman, was pregnant—and by the Holy Spirit, so she says! Indeed, it appears that Joseph did not exactly take the news lightly. But he did keep his cool. He didn't make a scene. He just decided to quietly break off the engagement and get on with his life.
Now, the conventional wisdom is that Joseph just assumed that if Mary was pregnant, and he was not responsible, then some other man was. Going through with the marriage, then, was out of the question. He would never be able to look at his wife or child and not see and feel the presence of someone else, an interloper, a usurper. Joseph would have been within his rights to publicly humiliate Mary. Indeed, the punishment for her presumed offense under Hebrew law was death by stoning. So his decision to keep everything quiet is seen as a noble and gracious act.
But there's another way of looking at this strange set of circumstances. The text of Matthew's gospel, which is the only account we have of these events from Joseph’s perspective, gives us no reason to suspect that he did not simply take Mary at her word when she said that her pregnancy was by the Holy Spirit and that there had been no other man. Maybe Joseph felt overshadowed by the same presence which was with Mary when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. “The Holy Spirit!? How could I possibly ever be worthy of living as a husband with someone chosen by the LORD to be the mother of the long-expected Messiah?” He had the legal right to enforce the marriage contract, of course, but figured this was one right it would be best not to exercise. If the Almighty wanted her, the Almighty could have her!
Any way you look at it, though, Joseph is the odd man out. There is someone else in the picture.
Something or someone is present with him, whether it's one of his fellow villagers in Nazareth, or the Holy Spirit of God. Whichever it is, though, forgetting about this marriage idea seems the only prudent course to follow.
Have you ever felt that something or someone is with you, but not be able to identify who or what it is? Have you ever experienced the nearness of a reality that you can't detect using any of the five senses that you learned about in grade school, but nevertheless feels profoundly and disturbingly close by? Have you ever felt a chill go down your spine at a mere thought? I have not yet met a human being who has attainted the age of reason and reflection who cannot testify to some such glimpse of the eternal, even if only for a fleeting moment. Yet, the way we respond, more often than not, is to just go on with our lives, to quietly break off from these moments of engagement with ultimate reality or with the kingdom of heaven or with whatever or whomever it is that's tapping us on the shoulder and saying, “I'm here.” We would rather remain ignorant than ask questions that might lead us to experience more anger or fear, or shame, or unworthiness.
The circumstances that Joseph found himself in were, to say the least, peculiar, but his sensation of presence, his knowledge that someone was with him, either for good or for ill, was as common a human experience as getting goose bumps watching a sunset. Joseph figured that the one who was with him was either a source of shame and embarrassment, or the source of such awe-ful glory as might well kill him with its brilliance. If he had gone through with his original plan to quietly break off his engagement to Mary, Joseph would never have learned that the right answer was “none of the above.” And when we disengage, when we break off our "engagement" from the presence that is with us, we forfeit the only chance we have of finding out who it is, the only chance we have of experiencing true and lasting hope, purpose, and joy. We spare ourselves the pain, but we don't get to enjoy the gain. All we get is more of the same!
Well, the LORD, in his mercy, was not inclined to let Joseph off the hook without making one more effort. So he sent a dream and an angel to re-assure him that everything was going to be alright. Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit, so he didn't have to be ashamed. But he also didn't have to worry about being unworthy, or the odd man out. God had chosen him, just as God had chosen Mary, to play a critical role at this critical point in the outworking of God's plan for the salvation of the human race. In that dream, the presence made himself known. The one whom he had experienced as with him was none other than God! The one who is present with us also makes himself known, not ordinarily through angelic visits in our dreams, but in the words of holy scripture, in the sacraments, and in the testimony of generation upon generation of saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs and ordinary everyday Christian believers. That which we first experience as “with us” is then revealed to us as “God.” The Hebrew word “Emmanuel”—Emmanuel for whom captive Israel mourns in lonely exile, Emmanuel whom we know to be the long-expected Jesus born to set his people free from their sins and fears—the name "Emmanuel" is normally rendered “God with us.” This translation, however, doesn't reflect as accurately as does the Hebrew word itself the way we experience “God with us.” Emman is the Hebrew preposition “with.” The suffix -u turns it into “with us.” Joseph first experienced the presence with him. We first experience the presence with us. Then the identity of the presence, the one who is with us, is revealed. El is the generic word for "god" in almost all the semitic languages, including Hebrew. Emmanu-el—with us, God!
With us ... God. In his dream, Joseph was empowered to follow the divine vocation which he had received. He went ahead with the wedding plans, and when the time came for the child to be born, he did as he was told by the angel, and named him Yeshua, or, as it comes to us through the Greek, Jesus –which, in any case, means “God saves.” According to Jewish custom, when Joseph named Jesus, he gave him the legitimacy of his own family lineage as an heir of King David, and fulfilled the ancient prophecies that the Messiah would come from David's line. Joseph probably didn't realize it at the time, but his naming of Jesus was the final link in the chain of God's plan to personally enter human history in order to save us from the power of sin and death.
You and I may not realize it even now, but our willingness to name Jesus, to recognize that the one whom we know to be “with us” is indeed “God,” to acknowledge that he alone is our strength and consolation, the hope of all the earth, the desire of every nation, and the joy of every longing heart—naming Jesus is the final link in the chain of our preparation for Christmas, the culmination of the waiting and hoping and anticipating that has been our vocation during the season of Advent. Jesus—our Emmanuel—with us, God. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Bishop Ed Salmon preached and I presided at the 1892 BCP service of Holy Communion as the people of St Thomas', Glen Carbon, under the fine pastoral care of Fr Tony Clavier, celebrated the centennial of the opening of their church by Bishop Osborne, one of my predecessors several times removed.
Friday, December 20, 2013
- Delayed by some staff banter when I arrived at the office, but eventually Morning Prayer was in the cathedral.
- Fr Sean Ferrell left his overcoat in my car as we parted ways at the end of our field trip yesterday, so I took it over to the downtown Post Office, found an appropriate box, and sent it off with a guarantee of next day delivery.
- Spent the rest of the morning responding in various ways to several emails that arrived yesterday.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Worked some more on my sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Christ Church, Springfield), arriving at an essential message statement.
- Made a scheduled quarterly review of our progress in the implementation of our diocesan mission strategy. Created several new actions as a result.
- Made travel arrangements (air, hotel, car rental) for my DEPO visit to the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, SC on the first weekend in February.
- Read an article sent by one of our clergy that has been in the queue for several weeks.
- Took care of a pastoral/administrative task that has also been in the queue for several weeks.
- Made an initial pass over the readings in preparation for preaching on the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, which the cathedral parish will be observing as its patronal feast day on last Sunday in January.
- Having noticed an announcement on Facebook of a new recording of some seasonal music from All Saints Margaret Street, I downloaded an listened to several Advent items. Spending time with music is a form of prayer for me.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Out the door early, at 7:45. Rendezvoused with Fr Sean Ferrell in Mt Vernon, discussing with him some recent developments at the Chapel of St John the Divine as we headed south on I-57 toward Marion and Carbondale. We arrived at St Andrew's around 11:30, and poked around the place with newly-arrived rector Mother Kathryn Jeffrey. Then the three of us headed out to lunch at Chili's, taking some time first to drive around the campus of Southern Illinois University. Our conversation centered on a strategic evaluation of the health and vitality of St Andrew's in Carbondale and St James in Marion, the general missionary environment of the "Hwy 13 metro area," and the work of campus ministry at SIU. It was a fruitful time of communal thinking-out-loud. At a rest area near Lebanon on the way home, I pulled out my phone and was horrified to see no fewer than 60 unread email messages. That's what happens when I'm not in the office to whack them down as soon as they pop up. Got that job done at home, though, and I'm now back to inbox-zero. It was a good dayl
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Sorted through the accumulated snail mail (none of it first class).
- Spoke by phone with the new rector of St Andrew's, Carbondale (and priest-in-charge of St James in Marion).
- Did all things necessary to prepare to preside and preach at the 12:15 Mass.
- Spoke by phone with a fellow Nashotah House trustee on some pending business.
- Took care of some administrivia concerning our diocesan summer camping program.
- Began to put some meat on the bones of my Christmas Eve homily (I'll be at the cathedral).
- Presided and preached at the regular midday cathedral Eucharist.
- Lunch at home, leftovers.
- Continued work on my Christmas sermon. Full rough draft now complete.
- Kept up with a stream of emails, an interesting exchange on a listserv, and an active comment stream on a Facebook post that happens to touch on the underlying assumptions of our mission strategy.
- Composed a fairly lengthy ad clerum letter, which should go out be email tomorrow.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
- Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Responded serially to five emails that I had turned into tasks. They were all of a hybrid pastoral/administrative nature, and they all took a fair amount of time.
- Refined and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily, at St John's, Centralia,
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Went over to the Illinois National Bank and arranged for a wire transfer of funds that had already been set aside by Diocesan Council for a particular project in the Diocese of Tabora.
- Composed a fundraising appeal letter to the diocese on behalf of specific needs in our two companion dioceses. Arranged for it to be emailed to all our clergy and key lay leaders; put it on the website, with links on the diocesan Facebook page and my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.
- Left the office at 3:30 because Brenda had a semi-emergency dental appointment and it was appropriate that I accompany her. While in the waiting area, made substantial progress on the still-developing "aspirational" liturgical customary for the diocese.
- Evening Prayer at home.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
We were out of the house at 7:45am, ahead of the regular 9:15 Sunday liturgy at St Paul's, Carlinville. The landscape along I-55, and then IL 108, we winter-wonderland exotic--snow-covered fields and bare trees revealing abandoned nests. We had a good time celebrating the Third Sunday of Advent--Gaudete, Rose Sunday--with the people of St Paul's. Fr John Henry displayed his versatility by covering duties at the organ bench, since I was there to cover the altar. Sumptuous meal afterward, the cheese grits being the most memorable feature after the table conversation about faraway places.
Following some afternoon downtime we went over to Staab Funeral Home to pay our respects to Jim Donkin in the wake of the sudden passing of his wife Mary. Her funeral will be tomorrow at Christ Church.
St Paul's, Carlinville--Matthew 11:2-11, Isaiah 35:1-10
There was once a man—we’ll call him “Fred”—who lived in a cabin in the woods in a low-lying area. (Some of you, I’m sure, have heard this story, so just bear with me.) Fred was a very religious man: He prayed every day and never missed church on Sunday unless he was too sick to get out of bed.
One day it started to rain, and it rained all through the night, and all the next day, and all night again. The flood waters began to rise, and the message came over the radio that the entire area of the county in which Fred lived was to be evacuated. About that time, Fred was in prayer, and he had a deep sense of assurance from that Lord that the Lord would take care of him, that he would not come to any harm, and that God’s faithfulness would see him through this crisis.
Just then, a sheriff’s deputy knocked on the door. “Fred, come on, get in my car, I’ll take you to high ground.” But Fred replied, “No, you go on, the Lord will take care of me.” A few hours later, the entire first floor of Fred’s house was covered with six feet of water. So Fred went up to one of the upstairs bedrooms. When he looked out the window, he saw his cousin in a rowboat, rowing toward him as fast as he could. “Fred! Don’t worry! Get in the boat and I’ll take you to safety.” But Fred just smiled and said, “Why cousin, that’s awfully kind of you, but the Lord is going to take care of me.”
By daybreak the next morning, Fred’s bedroom was covered with six feet of water, so he climbed up onto the roof. About that time, a National Guard helicopter hovered overhead, and a rope ladder was lowered. Someone with a megaphone shouted, “Climb on to the ladder and we’ll pull you up.” But Fred just shook his head and shouted back, “No, thanks, the Lord will take care of me.”
A short while after that, Fred was covered with six feet of water, and he drowned.
When Fred arrived at the Pearly Gates, he was in something of a huff. Before St Peter could even say “Welcome to Heaven,” Fred blurted out, “The Lord said he would take care of me! How come I drowned?” Peter replied, “Well, Fred, we sent the sheriff with a car and your cousin with a rowboat and the National Guard with a helicopter. What more did you want?”
After pondering this, Fred probably went and looked up John the Baptist, because they had alot in common. They were both confused by a discrepancy between their expectations of what God would send, and what God actually sent. John the Baptist expected the Messiah to be an axe-wielding chaff-burning purveyor of divine wrath.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, John publicly announced his arrival. “Pay attention to this guy. He’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. He must increase and I must decrease.”
But Jesus never does live up to all of John’s expectations, so he begins to wonder, “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Jesus is not the one.” So, from prison, he sends his own disciples to put the question to Jesus directly. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
John—and Fred, for that matter—is not unique, is he? We can all see something of ourselves in his moment of doubt. We are all prejudiced to one degree or another by what we expect God to do, or by what we expect God to say, or expect God to approve of, or condemn, or whatever. And our expectations then sometimes blind and deafen us to recognizing Jesus for who he is. It’s often difficult for us to really experience Jesus as the one who reveals—breaks open, manifests, shines the light on, announces, ushers in — the Kingdom of Heaven.
It reminds me of many of the stories I’ve heard over the years—the sort of story I always enjoy hearing—of how married couples “found” each other. What a mysterious process courtship is! Our “normal” expectation is that two people, when they meet, have at least an inkling of whether they’re attracted to one another, and they think, “Maybe this is the one.” And then a stressful experience of trial and error finally reveals whether “this one” is “the one.” But, as often as not, the story goes something more like this: “At first we were just friends. I didn’t think she was my type,” or “I didn’t think I had enough in common with him,” or however the failure to meet expectations is defined. “But as we worked together, or went to church together, or hung out in a group together, we found that we loved each other in a way that neither of us anticipated.” In the experience of relationship, the true identity of this person as “the one” was revealed.
Jesus’ identity as “the one we’ve all been waiting for” is authenticated in the same way. When the disciples of John the Baptist pose the question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. He simply invites them to observe what was going on around him. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Tell John all this and let him draw his own conclusion.”
Jesus’s advice to John applies equally to us. We may not be able to observe and report all the same signs that John’s disciples were able to observe and report, but we’re not lacking for experiential data on which to base a conclusion about Jesus’s identity. The Diocese of Springfield—and, for you, St Paul’s church in particular—is our local manifestation of the presence of Jesus. What do we see? We see places where the revolutionary values of the kingdom of God are preached, and sometimes even practiced. We see places where sin is forgiven, and people are supported in their desire to repent and sin no more. We see places where fear and despair give way to trust and hope. We see places where people give and receive love and spread it on one another’s sorrow like soothing ointment on open sores. We see places that people support with hours of precious time and thousands of dollars of hard earned money. We’re not perfect—we announce the kingdom, we try to model it, but we’re still a mere shadow of the reality. Yet, the parish church, the body of Christ in a particular place, is by definition a place where the blind see, the lame walk, and the hopeless hope.
As we move into the heart of the Advent season, and the celebration of Christmas looms over the horizon, our invitation is to look around us at these signs and see Jesus for who he is: The hope of Israel, the desire of nations, the one we’ve all been waiting for—the sheriff in his car, Fred’s cousin in his rowboat, the National Guard in its helicopter. Our only alternative is to conclude that Jesus is not the “one who is to come”, and to continue to search for our Messiah among the false gods worshipped by our neighbors in this world: political or social or economic ideology, “good causes”, success, health, or status of race or class. These are false gods, who will desert us in our hour of need, and leave us hungering for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it not infinitely preferable to experience the hope, the peace, the purpose, and the joy of simply falling at the feet of Jesus?—the Jesus who opens our eyes and ears with his words, the Jesus who appeared in our own human flesh in a Bethlehem cattle stall, the Jesus who will come again to judge the living and the dead?
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Woke up to a winter wonderland. Tried to wait until it had pretty much stopped snowing before firing up the new snow blower. Blessedly, it worked--and the work was short. Spent most of the rest of the day beginning to long process of getting the house ready for company when Christmas arrives. Also tackled some smallish items on my task list and processed a few emails.
Friday, December 13, 2013
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took a phone call from a priest ordained in another tradition seeking to have his orders received by and to exercise ministry in the Episcopal Church.
- Fattened up what is now a full rough draft of a homily for Advent IV--December 22 at St John's, Centralia.
- Pushed an email exchange a little further down the rails toward a theological study of marriage and sexuality that will complement the one currently being prepared by a team created by a General Convention resolution and whose work is probably quite predictable in its conclusions.
- Did some administrative and pastoral work by email with a Eucharistic Community that is in leadership transition.
- Attended (again, by email) to some business wearing my hat as a board member of Forward Movement.
- Corresponded with a priest of the diocese over some aspects of my January visit to his parish.
- Lunch at home (frozen pizza).
- Back to email, this time in response to someone from outside the diocese who wants to explore entering discernment for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Springfield.
- Spoke by phone with a potential candidate for one of our clergy vacancies.
- Did exegetical work on the gospel reading for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 19 at Christ Church, Springfield).
- Watching the snow begin to pile up, I went home at 4pm.
- Ignatian meditation (on the daily office gospel for the day) and Evening Prayer in my study at home.
- Did some broad stroke planning of sermon preparation tasks for all of 2014 and into 2015.
- Cleaned out the remainder of my email inbox.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
- Task planning at home.
- Debriefed after my trip with the Archdeacon and the Administrator, even as we processed the devastating news of the sudden death of Mary Donkin, wife of our treasurer Jim Donkin.
- Morning Prayer in the office (too cold in the cathedral).
- Prepared to celebrate and preach at the regular 12:15pm cathedral Mass.
- Replied to an important text message.
- Examined and processed the materials of a priest interested in one of our vacant cures.
- Presided and preached at the cathedral chapel Mass, celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- Lunch with the Archdeacon and the Provost at the Sangamo Club.
- Prepared a letter of recommendation for a former parishioner.
- Spoke at some length by phone with the Executive Director of the Living Church Foundation (one of the boards on which I serve).
- Talked with the Archdeacon regarding an emerging possibility for priestly ministry "on the ground" in one of our isolated parishes.
- Administrivia (printed and signed a form conveying my consent for another diocese to elect of bishop).
- Refined and printed a working text of my homily for this Sunday, Advent III, at St Paul's, Carlinville.
- More administrivia (having to do with diocesan website).
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Monday, December 9, 2013
The day had a leisurely start. Nice relaxed waterside outdoor breakfast with Brenda at the hotel restaurant. Then I met for a couple of hours, also al fresco, with the Dean/President of Nashotah House and the Academic Dean on a variety of matters related to the institution. I reconnected with Brenda and we went on a bit of a death march around downtown Sarasota in search of a stationery item she needed, which we eventually found. About 9000 steps later we were back at the hotel, where we enjoyed a mid-afternoon lunch at the same place where we had eaten breakfast. I then had an opportunity to process a few emails before it was time to dress appropriately and get over to the Church of the Redeemer, It was a packed church and out-of-this-world music and liturgy. The Bishop of Southwest Florida presided generally (since we were in his diocese). I ordained Jason Murbarger and Charleston Wilson to the priesthood. The Bishop of Central Florida ordained David Bumstead. The103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, was the preacher. So here's where you have to follow the bouncing ball: Fr Wilson will become curate at Redeemer. Fr Bumstead, who was raised up in Central Florida, will also be a curate a Redeemer. Fr Murbarger is already serving as curate at Trinity, Vero Beach, which is in the Diocese of Central Florida. Got all that straight? Anyway, it was a four-mitre ceremony, with a net loss of two for the Diocese of Springfield, though we believe very much in the concept of "pay it forward" when it comes to ordaining and deploying clergy, so we expect to receive ample blessings down the road.
Tomorrow is a "play day" for Brenda and me in sunny Sarasota, and Wednesday we'll be traveling home, so I'll go dark in this venue until Thursday.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Packed for three days away from home last night so we could hit the road promptly at 8:30am. There was a light dusting of snow, but it did no hinder our travel southward to St Thomas', Glen Carbon. Presided, preached, baptized and adult, and received his fiancee. After visiting with folks over good food in the parish hall, Bishop's Warden Jan Goosens gave me a tour of the daycare center and pre-school that operate under the auspices of the church. Then we headed to Lamber St Louis International Airport and hopped a jet for Atlanta and the on to Sarasota, where tomorrow the plan is for me to ordain Charleton Wilson and Jason Murbarger to the priesthood. We caught the tail end of a gala in anticipatory celebration of that event, seeing a large contingent from Nashotah House.
St Thomas', Glen Carbon--Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-1, Romans 15:4-13
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an immensely popular children's story by C.S. Lewis. Many of you, I'm sure, are very familiar with it. The action takes place in a land called Narnia. Narnia is ruled by the cunning and vindictive White Witch, who rides around in a sleigh, terrorizing her subjects. As long as anyone can remember, it has always been winter in Narnia —“always winter, but never Christmas,” to be precise.
But yet, there is a collective memory among the residents of Narnia, a memory of a time when Narnia was a happy place, alive and green and growing, a time when it was ruled by a wise and kind lion named Aslan. Aslan has not been seen or heard from for a long, long time, but there are rumors. Rumors that Aslan is going to return, very soon, to melt the snow, banish the witch, and restore tranquility and happiness to Narnia. The trees and the animals of the forest whisper to one another, "Psst! Aslan is on the move".
Aslan is on the move.
The season of Advent brings similar news to those sons of Adam and daughters of Eve such as ourselves who are not fortunate enough to live in the enchanted land of Narnia. You and I live in a transitional moment—a moment to God, at any rate, though it's taking several centuries from the perspective of human time. Winter is on the verge of melting into spring—as ridiculous as it may sound for someone who lives in the upper Midwest to say that in early December! Night is on the brink of turning to dawn. The grand drama of creation and redemption is about to enter the final act. Pssst! God is on the move!
God is on the move.
The blunt message of an unruly and obnoxious John the Baptist rings in our ears: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Time as we know it is going to come to an end. Relationships and institutions that we have invested our lives in are gong to exist no more. There is going to be a new universal order. Advent, it appears, is about some pretty remarkable stuff!
But I wonder whether very many of us take it with the seriousness it deserves. We are caught in the trap of ordinariness, enmeshed in the routine of life-as-usual, functionally blind and deaf to what God is doing, either within that ordinary life, or beyond it. Some years ago there was a PBS mini-series dramatizing the life of Winston Churchill. I remember being particularly impressed, not so much by Churchill's leadership of Great Britain during the dark days of World War II, which is what he is best known for, but by his role as an opposition Member-of-Parliament during the 1930's. The Prime Minister at that time, Neville Chamberlain, had a grand vision for improving economic and social conditions in the British Isles. Chamberlain wanted to strengthen public education, provide jobs for the unemployed, improve working conditions, and bring his country out of the Great Depression, which, along with the rest of the industrialized world, it was in the midst of. These were good things. Life-as-usual is a good thing. But Churchill saw that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi empire were positioning themselves to cross the channel and overrun England. And what good would all of Chamberlain's social programs be if the German flag flew over Buckingham Palace and the halls of Parliament? Winston Churchill was the impolite voice of John the Baptist, saying, “Repent! Change your priorities! The end of life-as-usual is at hand!”
John the Baptist's call to repentance is as timely for us today as it was for his original audience on the banks of the Jordan River. But we are probably more resistant to his message, more difficult to arouse and move, than they were. We are probably more obstinate than the government of Neville Chamberlain in the face of Winston Churchill's call to pay attention to what was going on in Germany. We persist in our besetting sins of placing undue value on wealth, health, status, and productivity, not to mention indulging in violence, injustice, sexual immorality, and dishonesty, either directly and personally, or through membership in a society that encourages these sins. And as members of a Christian community that is part of a web of Christian communities known as the Diocese of Springfield and the Episcopal Church, we remain largely trapped in habits of thought and action that are not particularly evil but are quite unrealistic, deaf and blind to the changes that are taking place in the culture around us, and what those changes mean to the way we speak and act as the Church.
Psst! God is on the move!
Well, if God is on the move, then most of us are apparently in no condition to welcome that news with, “Great! It's about time.” Rather, our response is more likely to be, “Now? I'm not ready yet!” In two-and-a-half weeks, some of us, having not finished our shopping or cookie-baking, might be saying, “Christmas is here? I'm not ready yet!” We may not realize what a true word we speak. Our hearts will not be in any condition to receive the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
A life insurance company used to run a series of cartoon ads. Each one pictured an individual happily going about life-as-usual: relaxing, swimming, playing golf, eating dinner...whatever. What he or she could not see, was that life-as-usual was about to come to an abrupt conclusion, courtesy of a falling grand piano, an erupting volcano, a tidal wave, a shark, or some such product of a cartoonist’s imagination. The one-line caption was always the same: “My insurance company? Why, New England Life, of course.” I guess the point of these cartoons was that their subjects were insured against the impending disaster, but it's equally obvious that they were not in any other sense prepared for what was about to happen. Neither are we, if we're not in an attitude of repentance. We're not going to be very excited to hear that Aslan is loose, that spring is coming, as long as we live in an ice house on which the White Witch holds a mortgage! But repentance is the only condition in which to joyfully receive what God is bringing about.
So what's going to become of us? We need to repent, but we're just a little bit too stubborn or complacent or wrapped up in our lives to do a very good job of it.
The consistent witness of scripture is that God loves us too much to simply abandon us in our sins. But it's also fairly clear in the Bible that he didn't make us as puppets, that he could control just by pulling strings. God is not going to coerce us into his kingdom. So he's going to have to be a little bit resourceful if he's going to get us to respond. One of the clichés that comes to us from animal training is that of the "carrot and the stick". The idea is that animals—including people—can be motivated either or both by the fear of pain or the enticement of pleasure. Today's liturgy is a sign that, in his desire for us to repent so he can save us, God is not beyond using the “carrot and stick” approach. The “stick,” in this case, is John the Baptist. One writer has called John the “patron saint of Christian nightmares.” “You brood of vipers! (You snakes!) Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is coming?! Bear fruit worthy of repentance! Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire! The one who's coming after me has his pitchfork in his hand, ready to gather his grain into his barn, but the chaff . . . (which might be you) . . . He will burn in an unquenchable fire!”
If there was ever an excuse for an Episcopalian to preach “fire and brimstone,” this is it! During Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I saw on TV a very large, crudely-built sign that someone had constructed on the southeast Florida coast just after the winds had subsided: “Ok, God, you've got our attention. Now what?” Sometimes God just needs to get our attention, and a stick is an effective way of doing it.
The “carrot”—the pleasurable enticement—today is the prophet Isaiah. I don't know about you, but I find this vision of the “Peaceable Kingdom”—a vision that has been the inspiration for a good many artists over the centuries—to be one of the most exciting and alluring passages in all of scripture. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together...and a little child shall lead them.” Imagine all these carnivorous animals suddenly becoming vegetarians! And the most incredible part of all: babies and young children can play on top of snake holes, and even stick their hands down in them, and not be bitten! This is not anything you're ever going to see on a National Geographic special, or hear about from your high school biology teacher! Now I'm not a vegetarian. I enjoy my position on the food chain! Nonetheless, I'm tremendously attracted by the vision of paradise regained, of Eden restored. This passage gives me goose bumps, and it might even give me the motivation I need today for the repenting that I need to do today.
And repentance is not feeling sorry, an emotion of regret. Repentance is a constant movement of turning—turning away from sin and toward God. And the movement of repentance is one in which our actions and our words are consistent with one another. The liturgies of Advent say a great deal about “preparing the way,” of making ready “a highway for our God.” We “prepare the way” within our own hearts and lives to remember our Lord's first coming when Christmas arrives, and we prepare the way within our own hearts and lives to welcome him when he returns to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to inaugurate the Peaceable Kingdom, when the lion lies down with the lamb.
The carrot or the stick. Whatever it takes, God wants our attention. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Nothing on my calendar today, so I spent it at home--mostly working from my recliner, though I did get a good treadmill workout in. I took care of a lot of non-urgent tasks that have been in the queue for a long time -- mostly articles that I've been wanting to read and routine personal organization "scheduled maintenance." Also dealt with several emails as they arrived. My Inbox is currently at Zero, which is a nice feeling.
Friday, December 6, 2013
- Arrived at the office at the regular hour, but took the time upon arrival to reprogram my satellite radio after yesterday's dealer update of the system. One must have one's familiar infrastructure.
- Morning Prayer in the office (the cathedral of forbiddingly cold these days).
- Left voice mail with a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
- With Sue's assistance, laid the wax seal on three ordination certificates, two for next week and one for next month. Two out of three were good on the first try, but even with three copies to mess up on, one had to be reprinted.
- Took an incoming phone call from another member of the Nashotah House board.
- Researched and made appropriate plans for parking at STL on Sunday as we journey briefly to Florida for two ordinations (in one service).
- Drafted and sent a email to the person who left the threatening voice mail that I discovered earlier this week. This was an attempt at pastoral care. Don't know how effective it will be.
- Began to work on q Nashotah House project.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- Continued and completed work on the aforementioned project.
- Attempted to make arrangements for a personal retreat next month. This has been an elusive goal for some time.
- Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
- Back to my previously customary (before all my travel) Thursday morning treadmill workout.
- Dropped the YFNBmobile at the Hyundai dealer for its scheduled 67,500 mile maintenance. Brenda followed me in and brought me to the office.
- Morning Prayer in the office.
- Revised the evolving draft of my homily for Advent III (St Paul's, Carlinville).
- Registered for the March 2014 meeting of the House of Bishops, which also entailed making airline reservations from Springfield to Houston. Found a decent itinerary at a decent price.
- Drafted and send a couple of emails--one related to my membership in the Communion Partners group of bishops, the other related to my Nashotah House responsibilities.
- Began scanning the pile of hard copy detritus on my credenza.
- Brenda picked me up and brought me home for lunch, then back to Green Hyundai to retrieve my vehicle. The updated my GPS and managed to erase all my radio presets in the process. Ugh.
- Continued with the scanning project.
- Took a phone call from one of our seminarians.
- Addressed another Nashotah project (trustee committee assignments).
- Made an initial fly-by past the readings for Epiphany II (January 19), in preparation for preaching at Christ Church, Springfield.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
- Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Set up and otherwise prepared for the 12:15 Mass (altar book, readings, Prayers of the People).
- Took a phone call from one of our clergy regarding a deployment issue, which then generated a handful of emails.
- Worked on a long-delayed updating of the "alternative" Prayers of the People, a resource for parishes on the diocesan website.
- Presided and preached at the regular cathedral liturgy, celebrating the lesser feast of St John of Damascus.
- Lunch at home, from TG.
- Working from home, continued with the Prayers of the People project.
- Left for Edwardsville at 3:30.
- Met with the vestry of St Andrew's from 5:00 until approximately 6:30. They are past the initial phase of their transition, and ready to discuss possible future scenarios.
- Dinner at Jack-in-the-Box in Edwardsville, then home, arriving at 8:30.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
- Master weekly task planning at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Edited, refined, and printed a working copy of my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
- Spoke by phone with one of our clergy concerning a financial/administrative matter and the question of hosting the 2014 Synod.
- Responded to a clergy request for Discretionary Fund assistance.
- Responded to a request from Sandy Moore, our chair of National and Global Mission, to look over a draft of a survey regarding interest and involvement of the various parishes in those areas.
- Tended to an administrative matter concerning the retirement of one of our priests.
- Lunch at home ... yummy leftovers.
- Processed with the Archdeacon and the Cathedral Provost a voicemail that was left last Wednesday afternoon but which I just listened to this morning that can plausibly be interpreted as a death threat against me. We discussed it, and eventually made a call to the Illinois State Police.
- Bashed my head against the brick wall of my office repeatedly ... no, actually, I tried to get a camcorder and my laptop to play well together so I can be about some long-delayed video editing, but it feels like I may as well have been doing the head bashing thing.
- Met with two detectives from the Illinois State Police. They are going to shake the appropriate trees, as we know who left the ominous voice mail.
- Dealt with a smallish but important pastoral/administrative matter.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Leisurely morning, as my visitation was to All Saints, Morton, which is only an hour and fifteen minutes from Springfield, and the liturgy was not until 11am. Solid Advent worship at All Saints (which naturally includes the Great Litany sung in procession), with one confirmation. Once we got home, it was vigorous work doing "leaf abatement" until darkness set in.
All Saints, Morton--Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:8-14, Isaiah 2:1-5
One of my brothers—many years ago, when he was a teenager—worked in a McDonald’s restaurant. I enjoyed hearing him tell some of the "inside" stories of an operation than is such a ubiquitous part of American life. One of the facts of life for McDonald’s employees was the knowledge that, at any moment, members of an inspection team from the corporate offices could walk through the door and make a spot check. People's jobs depended on the results of such inspections. The scariest part was that the employees might never know the inspection team had even been there until it was well beyond too late to do anything about it. As likely as not, the team would be "disguised" as ordinary customers, who would come in, wait in line, order a meal, sit down and eat it, and probably use the restroom. So, with the possibility of a corporate inspection at any moment, the employees simply had to conduct themselves accordingly, to make sure that the way the food was prepared, the way customers were treated, and the way the restaurant looked, was up to the standards defined by the corporation. As long as these standards were being met, no one had anything to fear. In fact, they could even look forward—with pride—to such visits.
The season of Advent is upon us. And at the beginning of the Advent season, the liturgy of the church invites us to pay attention to the fact that an "inspector" from the "home office" could burst through the clouds at any moment and call us to account for the way we're living our lives on this planet. Do we greet that prospect with joyful anticipation, or with fear and shame? On the occasion of his first visit to earth, Jesus compared his second coming to that of a "thief in the night", a burglar who sneaks into a house when its residents are least expecting—and least prepared for—company. He also compares it to the time of Noah, when people were caught unawares and swept away by the rising waters of the flood. The Great Litany includes a petition for deliverance from "dying suddenly and unprepared."
Just knowing we've got to die is bad enough, but the thought of dying without being able to get ourselves and our loved ones ready for it is particularly chilling. Yet, maintaining a state of readiness, a state of preparedness to come face to face with our maker and judge is like swimming against the current in a mountain stream.
The demands and details of just coping with life-as-usual are so consuming, that any energy spent on something as mysterious and other-worldly as the Second Coming of Christ seems like a self-indulgent luxury.
The people in the days of Noah, Jesus says, were consumed with the ordinary business of life—eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. The sheer ordinariness of their lives—their vices and their virtues—stopped their ears to the warnings that Noah was shouting at them. It is entirely too easy for us today to be similarly deaf to the warnings that God is shouting at us, through Jesus, and through the liturgies of Advent. It is entirely too easy for us to be so pre-occupied by life-as-usual that we fail to notice how God has acted and is acting and will act in human history. We fail to take notice of the larger context—the "cosmic" context —in which we live our lives. We live in a time of transition, a time when "Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, all the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God" are surrendering to the rule and sovereignty of the maker of heaven and earth.
To us, creatures of time, this period of transition seems to be dragging on and on—two thousand years now. But from the perspective of him to whom a thousand years is but the twinkling of an eye, we all live and die in the midst of a single moment. Our calling, during Advent, and the rest of the year as well, is to develop a keen and habitual awareness of our place in that moment, that moment of transition. It's like that ten week period between a presidential election in November and the inauguration of a new president in January, when the executive branch of our federal government is in a moment of transition. You can be sure that those whose jobs are considered political appointments, and those who want jobs that are considered political appointments, are keenly and habitually aware of their place in a time of transition, whether they're on the way out or on the way in.
They are, if they're smart, ordering their lives and their priorities in the light of that transitional moment.
This is what the scriptures mean when they say, "be watchful, stay awake, maintain your vigilance, be prepared." When Jesus talks about the people of Noah's time being surprised by the flood, and people at the time of his return being pre-occupied with the mundane chores of working in the field and grinding flour, he's giving us a warning. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." St Paul echoes the same warning when he tells the Christians in Rome, "...salvation us nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near." The Prayer Book collect for this first Sunday of Advent borrows its imagery from the very next verse in this passage from Romans 13: "...give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal...".
Is the prospect of our Lord's return to this earth dreadful ... or joyful?
It's supposed to be joyful, a vision of hope, a vision like Isaiah's image of "the mountain of the Lord's house", with all the nations of the earth streaming into it to worship the Lord, beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks as they make their way up the hill. If the prospect of Jesus' return fills your heart with fear, rather than with hope and anticipation, then the beginning of Advent is your wake-up call! It's still not too late. Let loose of life-as-usual long enough to look around you and pay attention to what God is doing.
In a few minutes, during that part of the liturgy known as "the Great Thanksgiving", part of our prayer will be to offer thanks to God "because [he] sent [his] beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing."
Indeed, so be it.