Saturday, May 31, 2014
Slow morning ... which is therapeutic when I can snag one ... capped off by a nice long walk that got me right up to my 10,000 step daily goal. Took care of various odds and ends of business during the afternoon, none of it very intense. Headed out after supper, around 7, for Effingham, where I'm now bedding down ahead of tomorrow's visit to St John's, Albion.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Up at 3:15am (EDST), out at 4am aiming toward a 5am arrival at Boston Logan International and a 6am departure for O'Hare. It all happened smoothly, I'm pleased to say. Racked up multiple hundreds of steps on the pedometer during a three+ hour layover in Chicago. We were keeping our fingers crossed about our 11:30 connection to Springfield, since I've had a run of bad luck in that regard of late, but it all went right by the script and we were on the ground before noon and home by 12:30. After unpacking and resting a bit, I attacked some accumulated emails and a handful of other tasks that didn't require an inordinate amount of creative thinking.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
We indulged ourselves in a "late morning" and leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant. After a walk around the environs on a brisk morning (New England hasn't quite gotten the memo on spring yet), our hosts picked us up and drove us to the nearby town of Clinton, home of the Museum of Russian Icons. This was a first-class museum operation in an historic building, and I was pleased that they understand icons not just historically or artistically, but in the context of the spirituality that is their native environment. I found it quite moving.
After lunch at a nearby Irish-themed eatery, and some down time back at the Doubletree, we were ferried to Christ Church in Fitchburg for a liturgy rehearsal and a pizza repast. The liturgy was glorious--ceremonially and musically, and I hope at least workmanlike homiletically. Nice champagne and dessert reception afterward, and it was fun to visit with parishioners.
Christ Church, Fitchburg, MA--Luke 24:44-53
I’ll date myself with this reference, but some of you may remember a Bill Cosby comedy routine from the 1960s that began with the simple declaration, “I started out as a child.” We all did, of course. But we can also all take Dr Cosby one level deeper and say, “I started out as a fetus.” We all had the experience of developing in utero, and receiving necessary oxygen from our mother’s blood supply by means of an umbilical cord, and we’ve all got belly buttons to prove it. All the bodily systems necessary for life in the outside world are developing during the time a baby spends growing in his or her mother’s womb. Some of these systems are functional before birth: muscles, autonomic reactions, hearing, etc. The respiratory system also develops, but it remains dormant, unused. Then, when the child is born, the umbilical cord is cut. There’s a very anxiety-laden period of time—hopefully very brief—between the cutting of the cord and respiratory system kicking into action as the baby draws his or her first breath. It’s a moment of great anticipation, and often some fear, for those in the room.
In liturgical time, that’s precisely where we find ourselves on this feast of the Ascension. The very Jewish disciples of a very Jewish Jesus had been taken on a violent emotional roller coaster ride. In the space of three dozen months, give or take, they had encountered Jesus, most of them while going about their ordinary work, they had answered his call to follow him, to become disciples—an act of obedience that brought with it huge risk and great danger, they had been formed by his teaching and his example, they had come to expect, as a result of that teaching and example, the fulfillment of Israel’s hope for a messiah who would deliver them from the yoke of Roman oppression and restore their lost national glory. Then they had experienced, rather suddenly, one of their own colleagues betraying Jesus into the hands of hostile authorities, after which he suffered horribly, during which time they all abandoned him, followed by his death, the empty tomb, and the post-resurrection appearances of their crucified and risen Master who was clearly the same person whom they had followed around Galilee and Judea, but at the same time clearly different. Now he’s suddenly taken from them—permanently this time, it appears—yet, in a way that has them returning to Jerusalem “with great joy,” St Luke tells us, and with a tantalizing promise of “power from on high,” whatever that is.
When a child emerges from the womb, his or her respiratory system, which previously was both unnecessary and unavailable, suddenly becomes both vitally important and available for use. The necessary condition—this is, birth—has been met. It’s a critical moment in anyone’s life; indeed, life itself depends on it. In the economy of God’s plan of redeeming a fallen universe, the ascension of Jesus fulfills a similarly necessary condition. It’s a critical moment in the revelation and manifestation of that plan. In the ascension of Jesus, human nature comes to reside in the very heart of God. Later in this liturgy, we’re going to be singing a wonderful 19th century hymn text that speaks to this critical moment. The One who was “from the beginning the mighty Word,” with a reference to the majestic prologue to John’s gospel—“in the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God”—this Word, as it becomes flesh, is “humbled for a season to receive a name”—that is, the “name” Son of Man, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, of one nature with us as human creatures. He bore that Name faithfully, we will sing, “spotless to the last”; indeed, he “bore it up triumphant to the central height.” In the ascension, Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, now also become Son of Man, and having lived the first truly human life in the history of creation, brings that human nature into the very heart of God. Is that not a stunningly beautiful declaration, that human nature—your human nature and mine—now resides in the heart of God? Herein lies our hope, that as God assumed human nature in the incarnation, sealing that act of love as the Father receives the Son back to his right hand, so now the way is prepared for us, sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, to become partakers of the divine nature, as St Peter tells us in his first epistle.
That’s pretty good news, but there’s even more! We await the outworking of our salvation through participation in God’s very life. We participate in the life of God by, among other things, doing what we’re doing here tonight: Hearing the Word of God proclaimed and broken open, coming together for the eucharistic banquet, and remaining together as the people of God, the Body of Christ—taken and blessed and broken and given for the life of the world. And along that journey, there are gifts to sustain us and encourage us and empower us. As the respiratory system of a newborn child comes online as a response to the fulfillment of the necessary condition of birth, and the umbilical cord being cut, so the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit come online now that the necessary condition of human nature residing in the heart of God has been fulfilled, thus bringing full-circle the saving action that God initiated in the incarnation.
Indeed, we could do worse than to think of the Holy Spirit as the Church’s “respiratory system” that has come online in response to the ascension of Jesus. The availability and accessibility of “power from on high,” in turn, enables and energizes the mission of the Church. Two millennia later, we have that same energy and power available to us. It was planted in us as we came under the sacramental waters of the baptismal font. It is cultivated and developed in us through the practices of prayer and discernment. And then that Holy Spirit power, operating in each of the cells of the Body as they make themselves available, becomes the animating force behind the Church’s missionary work of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, and of leading others to the risen and ascended Christ so they may become his disciples, for the life of the world.
Alleluia and Amen.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Bedding down in Leominster, MA after a long day of travel (most of it spent at O'Hare) and ahead of guest preaching tomorrow evening (Ascension) at Christ Church in Fitchburg. My first time in Massachusetts. Saw bits of Boston in the dark. Hope to come back and see more sometime.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
- My only day in the office this week, as tomorrow brings more travel.
- Did some task management while still at home over breakfast. Began to refine my sermon for Ascension the day after tomorrow (as guest preacher at Christ Church in Fitchburg, MA).
- Arrived at the cathedral/office complex at the usual hour, to find a phalanx of funeral home employees more than two hours ahead of the scheduled 11am requiem for Deacon John Wilson. Morning Prayer got lost in the shuffle, as I was immediately drawn into an array of make-ready tasks.
- Left two voice mails, one of my own volition and one as part of a volley in response to a message left for me while I was away last week.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on an array of pastoral and administrative matters.
- Finished the better part of refining and printing the Ascension sermon.
- Presided at the funeral liturgy for Deacon John Wilson, who died last week. John had lived and ministered in the Springfield area since his retirement around two decades ago, though he was canonically resident in the Diocese of Chicago.
- Ran by the bank for a personal errand.
- Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home. Took a call from a priest of the diocese over an emerging personal/pastoral matter.
- Drove down to Chatham to preside of the 2pm committal for Deacon Wilson.
- Took a returned phone call from one of the messages I had left in the morning.
- Conferred some more with the Archdeacon.
- Met with a retired priest who is doing freelance work on retainer for a bishop and diocese. He was in the area and wanted to discuss some clergy deployment concerns.
- Got some licks in on my sermon for Pentecost (June 8 in Alton).
- Brief devotions in the cathedral, then home. It was late.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
We rolled out in time for the 8:30am Eucharist at the Church of the Messiah in St Paul. A sizeable portion of their very lively congregation is from a southeast Asian people known as the Karen. What a wonderful connection for them to have made. The rest of the day was spent hanging around our daughter and son-in-law's home and neighborhood, with walking time, and playing-in-the-park time and a nice lunch at a local eatery. Quality time with the grandchildren.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Morning Prayer & Mass ... breakfast ... Nashotah House trustees from 9:30 until 2:30, with a 30 minutes break for lunch. Extraordinarily productive, with a wide range of views advocated for robustly, yet with an effective consensus emerging in each area that allows us to move forward. We're "living into" a long-overdue reconstruction of the governance and governance culture of the House. I was elected to another (regular, not an alumni slot this time) term as trustee and re-elected chair. What a privilege to serve and help lead in institution I love with a bunch of talented and dedicated people. After changing clothes and packing up, we headed north and west to St Paul, MN, where we get to share weekend with our daughter, her husband, and their two rather adorable children.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Nashotah House, Day 3: Morning Prayer ... breakfast ... to St Jerome's byu 9 to get ready for graduation ... presided at the graduation Mass (a splendid liturgy) ... posed for a lot of pictures ... working lunch with the Executive Committee .... met with trustees from 2:30 until 4:25 (barely made a dent in our long agenda) ... Solemn Evensong (always an emotional time as it's the "last one" for the graduating seniors) ... mixing and mingling ... drinks and dinner in the refectory ... more mixing and mingling ... more drinking at the Deanery while we heard about the Compass Rose Society and a capital funds "quiet phase" venture ... more drinking still at the pub in the basement of the Fort ... another full day. (I didn't drink *that* much ... and I love serving the House).
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Morning Prayer ... breakfast ... mixing & mingling ... Alumni Day Mass with splendid homily by Bishop Donald Parsons ... more mixing & mingling ... Alumni luncheon ... short break ... alumni meeting ... Executive Committee meeting ... Solemn Evensong with another fine homily by a graduating senior ... Class of 1989 reunion dinner (shared with the classes of 1999, 1979, and 1974). A full day.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Met with the special governance task group in the morning. Met with most of the trustees in the afternoon in very helpful facilitated group discussion. No regular board business until Thursday. Dinner with an STM student who lives in the Fort (where I am lodging while here) at LeDuc's, an iconic one-off frozen custard stand that also serves "real food." Tomorrow: Alumni Day.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Enjoyed a partial day off, with all the usual chores and errands, until midafternoon, when I began to pack for a week away. Backed out of the driveway for Nashotah house around 5:30 PM, where I am now safely ensconced, in anticipation of commencement, a Board of Trustees meeting, and then a weekend with our daughter and her family in the Twin Cities.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
St Mark's, West Frankfort--John 14:1-14
Jesus is taking leave of his closest disciples. It is the eve of his crucifixion, and they will never see and know him again in quite the same way. They’re not yet aware of all the details, but they know enough to be nervous, to be anxious. Jesus recognizes how they’re feeling, and he says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Let not your hearts be troubled. Easy enough for him to say. Back in the ‘80s, a talented musician named Bobby McFerrin made a name for himself with a hit song called, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s a cute song, and maybe even a good idea, but I doubt it had much of an effect on the general level of anxiety in the world. Our hearts are troubled. Our hearts are troubled by fear—fear that we won’t get what we deserve from life, fear that we will get what we deserve from life. Fear of the unknown, and fear of the known. Fear of dying, and fear of not being able to die when life becomes too much to bear. Our hearts are troubled by fear.
Our hearts are also troubled by regret. We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done. The older we get, the deeper our reservoir of regret becomes. We regret words of anger that caused pain, and we regret words of healing and forgiveness that were never spoken. We regret foolish behavior born of stubborn selfishness, and we regret stupid things we have done when we should have known better. We regret decisions we have made that seemed good at the time, but which turned out badly. Our hearts are troubled by regret.
So Jesus says to his disciples, and he says to us,
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”
This is meant to be reassuring. “Don’t worry … be happy.” Thomas, however, doesn’t get it. You remember “Doubting Thomas,” the one who insisted on seeing the physical evidence before he would believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. Thomas says, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" So Jesus puts it another way, trying to make himself perfectly clear, and as a result, we get one of the most well-known verses in all of scripture, John 14:6—"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
I am the way. Now, pay close attention here. Jesus does not merely tell us that he will show us the way. Rather, he himself is the way. Jesus does not merely promise that he will tell us the truth—he is the truth. And Jesus does not merely announce that he intends to give us life; he gives us his pledge that he is the life. This is a consistent theme throughout the gospel of John—Jesus offers us a great many gifts, but in the end, what he offers us is himself. Everything else he gives us is summed up in this: Jesus gives us himself. He doesn’t just give us bread; he is the bread of life. He doesn’t just supply us with a shepherd; he is the Good Shepherd. Next week, we will learn that he is the true vine, to whom we are connected as branches. Today, Jesus is present with us as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
But now that Thomas is satisfied, it’s Philip who doesn’t quite get it. "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." So Jesus clarifies yet again: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Here is another central affirmation of St John’s gospel, and of the entire New Testament: Jesus is the human face of God. Jesus is God with us. All that the Father is to us, we see in Jesus. Jesus is central; Jesus is integral. As Christians, we would do well, in my view, to train ourselves to think and speak more specifically of “Jesus” and “the Father,” and less generically of “God.” Many years ago, I was asked to give the invocation at the regular meeting of a local school board. I was aware that the superintendent, who would chair the meeting, was Jewish, and so I made it clear to the person who called to invite me that I didn’t desire to give offense, but that, as a Christian, the only way I know how to pray is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Anything else would be sub-Christian, and therefore hypocritical on my part. Now, that was more than two decades ago, and it was in the Deep South, so it was OK, and I prayed my Christian prayer at the beginning of the school board meeting. If I were to receive a similar request today, my agreement would come with a similar condition, though it would probably be less likely to be agreed to.
So … it appears that paying attention to our relationship with Jesus is critical. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus shows us the Father. How do we pay attention to our relationship with Jesus? There isn’t time now to give a detailed answer to that question, but let me suggest four broad categories of relationship maintenance:
First, we attend to our relationship with Christ by reading and marking and learning and inwardly digesting the Word of God transmitted to is in sacred scripture. Second, we attend to our relationship with Christ by participating in his life through the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Holy Communion. Third, we attend to our relationship with Christ by saying our prayers—publicly and privately, day in and day out. Finally, we attend to our relationship with Christ in our involvement with and faithfulness to the community of Christ, the Church. Word, Sacrament, Prayer, and Community—these are the media through which we experience Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Doing so will, in turn, give us the authority and power to pursue the mission of Christ. When we live deeply in Christ, he begins to perform his works through us. After clarifying himself to Thomas and Philip, Jesus tells the disciples, “…he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” Greater works than these—what could Jesus possibly mean? Jesus spent the majority of his ministry doing two things: teaching and healing. But even as God-in-the-flesh, he was limited by his incarnate state. The number of people to whom he could minister was constrained by time and space. But after he was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father in his glorified state, that ministry of teaching and healing—that ministry of relieving anxiety, that ministry of calming troubled hearts—has been extended into time and space and been made available to every person in every place in every time. Our intercessions during the Prayers of the People in this very liturgy are part of those “greater works.” The education and outreach programs of this parish are part of those greater works. The love that you share with one another, and in your homes, and with your friends and neighbors and co-workers—this is also part of the greater works that we do because we have known Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is precisely what we give thanks for at the end of every Mass, when we pray to the Father that the grace we have received in Holy Communion will enable us to “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in,” or to “love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart,” or “to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
This is the context for Jesus assuring his followers, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” It’s not a blank check for our personal gratification; it’s a promise that the Church will prevail in her mission, that the “greater works” we perform in the name of the Son, will bring glory to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. So let us not fail to ask—let us not fail to ask, in Jesus’ name, that our troubled hearts be comforted, and that we become channels of that comfort and peace to a fearful and regretful world. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
- Up and out at a usual weekday hour in order to get ready for Diocesan Council and the Mass that precedes the meeting. Presided and preached, commemorating ferial Saturday in the week of Easter IV. The meeting itself was devoid of particular excitement (which is a good thing), but I was nonetheless energized by hearing about so many different ministry initiatives taking place in the diocese: Strategy Resource Team pilot project in Mattoon, an effort toward developing training opportunities for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechists, possible new ministry in Cairo, Cursillo and Kairos, youth pilgrimage to Canterbury.
- Met, along with the Archdeacon, with the Rector of St Andrew's, Carbondale, who is also Priest-in-Charge of St James, Marion, and the Bishop's Warden of St James, to take counsel together for the future of ministry in that portion of the Hale Deanery.
- Home around 2pm. Rested a bit, ate a bit, watched the Cubs-Brewers game a bit, then took a long walk along one of my usual routes that included Washington Park, which is beautiful this time of year.
- Packed and hit the road around 6:45 for Mt Vernon ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Mark's, West Frankfort.
Friday, May 16, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took care of several pieces of related by distinct pieces of Nashotah House-related business throughout the day.
- Spent time preparing mentally for a substantive appointment with a priest of the diocese; then the appointment consumed the better part of 90 minutes.
- Lunch from the prepared foods area at HyVee, eaten at home.
- Performed the exegetical phase of the sermon preparation process for Proper 9 (July 8 at St Stephen's, Harrisburg).
- Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on today's daily office gospel lection.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
- Customary Thursday morning workout--treadmill only this time, no weights until my travel schedule settles down and I can regain some consistency.
- Substantive phone call with a member of the Nashotah House board. Part of the process of gearing up for next week.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took care of a small but important administrative task that had been too long delayed.
- Fleshed out and rough-drafted my homily for Ascension, to be delivered as a guest preacher at Christ Church, Fitchburg, MA.
- Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
- Dashed off a belated answer to an email that may be "trivial" to me but is important to the person who sent it.
- Attended to another small but now formerly important administrative matter ... by doing nothing. Sometimes if you delay acting long enough, the matter just goes away!
- One more small administrative chore and one more email.
- Reviewed my June visitation calendar and scheduled reminders in case I haven't heard from the relevant clergy by a certain date.
- Four more small administrative tasks handled by email.
- Paid some attention to a possible integrated solution to our website and database needs. The current website is "pretty good," but it could be better. And our database software is ... non-existent.
- Reviewed and approved a request for a marital judgment.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
- 57 potential action items in the chute; 9 chosen for potential completion today. (Afternoon consumed by a funeral in Bloomington.)
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared for the celebration of the 12:15pm cathedral Mass.
- Responded to some newly-arrived, and semi-urgent, emails.
- Put some meat on the bones of a sermon outline for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 1 at St John's, Albion.
- Attended to part of the mountain of details that lie before me in advance of next week's meeting of the Nashotah House board of trustees.
- Showed up to celebrate Mass, but there was no congregation. This happens sometimes. I sat in the church and enjoyed a few minutes of quiet prayer and reflection.
- Made travel arrangements to attend the Province V House of Bishops in a couple of weeks.
- With the Archdeacon riding shotgun, drove up to Bloomington via the drive-through lane at Freddy's Steakburgers & Frozen Custard to preside at the funeral of Father Richard Bennett, a long-time and revered priest of the diocese. It was a holy and rich time of remembrance and commendation at St Matthew's. For the record, this is the fifth funeral of a priest on my watch, and the third in as many months. This is not a sustainable pace. Home right at 6:30.
- Down to 52 tasks left for the week.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
- 77 individual action items tagged for this week in my task management software. Most will not get done this week. 17 (unrealistically? optimistically?) earmarked for today.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Did some initial culling of the hard-copy detritus that had accumulated on my desk during my absence.
- Spoke by phone with one of our priests who is in a time of transition.
- Developed, refined, and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Mark's, West Frankfort). Put the script in my car (a habit that recognizes my fallible memory), and arranged for the text to magically appear on the interwebs about the time it's being delivered.
- Dealt with some administrative detritus pertaining to the upcoming pilgrimage to England and the upcoming board meeting at Nashotah House.
- Put the finishing touches on a draft Charge to the Dean Search Committee at Nashotah.
- Lunch from Market Grille--the restaurant associated with the HyVee grocery store that opened just today (the place was mobbed)--eaten at home.
- Responded to a handful of emails that come under the general hybrid rubric of Administration/Pastoral Care.
- Processed (mostly by scanning) my physical inbox. This, in turn, generated about a half dozen new entries in the task list.
- Organized and made an initial fly by over the readings for Proper 9--July 6 at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- In the evening, after dinner, kept my nose to the grindstone and dealt with more administrivia--some Nashotah, some pilgrimage, some involved eucharistic communities in crisis or transition. Accomplished 13 of the 17 action items that I put in front of myself at the beginning of the day.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Up and out of the Hilton Garden O'Fallon just past 7:30 en route to presiding and preaching both morning liturgies (8:00 and 10:30) at St George's, Belleville, while also holding forth at the adult forum between services. St George's is a lively parish, under the able pastoral and administrative leadership of Fr Dale and Deacon Jody Coleman. Nice lunch afterward; home around 3:30. Did some resting, some TV watching, and made a dent in a long task list. Realized that there are hundreds of airplanes over American at any given moment, and I am not on any of them, which is a blessing.
St George's, Belleville--John 10:1-10
When I was being taught to preach, I was told that, in an era of shrinking attention spans, a good sermon should be, if not itself a story, at least story-like. In order to hold people's attention, a sermon should have a plot, with all the features we learned about in high school English: situation—complication—crisis—resolution. Most of the time, I try to follow this advice, because, if given a choice, I would prefer to keep the attention of my listeners than to lose it!
This becomes difficult, however, when the biblical material I'm given to work with is itself already kind of story-like. It seems kind of unhelpful to illustrate an illustration, to interpret a story by telling another one. So I'm left with the job of playing straight man to Jesus, and just explaining as best I can what he means with these images that are almost stories—about sheep and shepherds and gates and thieves and robbers and whatnot.
Let's start with the cast of characters and the territory they inhabit. First, we've got sheep. To city slickers, like most of us here today, sheep are cute. They score very high on the warm-and-fuzzy-meter. But, as cute as they are, sheep are equally simple, not noted for their intelligence or initiative or capacity for creative action. They need to be led to food and water, and watched constantly so they don't wander off and get eaten by a predator. As for what the sheep themselves eat, I suppose there may be such a thing as Purina Sheep Chow, but sheep generally obtain their nourishment by grazing in a pasture, where grasses and various other plants grow. And a good pasture has a stream running through it, from which the sheep obtain the water they need to stay alive.
At night, however, in order to be protected from various creatures that view them not as cute but as fast food, the sheep are herded into a fenced area known as a fold. A fold might enclose quite a large area, but it only has one gate. No one is allowed into the fold, or out of the fold, except through that gate. Anyone, man or animal, who tries to get into the fold by climbing over the fence, is presumed to be up to no good.
Human beings who take care of sheep are called shepherds. Their job is to watch over the gate and make sure nothing gets into the fold that isn't supposed to be in it, and that all the sheep who are supposed to be in it at night indeed make it in. It's also the job of shepherds to lead the sheep out of the fold in the morning and take them to pasture, where they'll find the food and water they need, and to keep an eye on them while they graze.
So these are the characters and the setting of Jesus' parable of the Good Shepherd as recorded in the tenth chapter of John's gospel. Now, what does it all mean, and how does it apply to us gathered in St George's church in 2014?
One way of understanding it, obviously, is that Jesus is the shepherd and we all are the sheep. In the one-hundredth Psalm we sing that "we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture." Jesus is our good shepherd, who leads us into green pastures and beside still waters and refreshes our souls. He calls us each by name and we recognize his voice and follow him. When we wander off, he comes after us and brings us back to the fold. Our good shepherd stands watch at the gate of the sheepfold, making sure no thieves or robbers get in to carry us away. "The king of love my shepherd is, his goodness faileth never ..." —so goes our hymnal version of the twenty-third Psalm. It's a comforting and reassuring statement, and, as far as it goes, eminently true.
But I believe we are called to a deeper level of understanding of our Lord's shepherd-like care of us. How does Jesus exercise such care? What does it look like and feel like in concrete human experience? If we were to actually talk to a real live shepherd, we would find out that shepherds are not usually Lone Rangers. On the night of Jesus's birth, St Luke tells us, "there were in the same country shepherds (plural) abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock (singular) by night." Presumably one of them was the boss, who delegated responsibility for certain portions of the one flock to various shepherd-associates. Indeed, Jesus, the "master shepherd,” created in and for his church an order of shepherds. He told Peter, in the company of the other apostles, to "feed my sheep." The successors of the apostles in this order of shepherds are those whom, since the time of the New Testament itself, we have called bishops. And bishops, at their discretion, invite into the order of shepherds, as their assistants, those whom we refer to as "presbyters", or "priests".
In this way, the pastoral care of the Good Shepherd is multiplied and made concretely available to all the sheep. Bishops and priests lead the flock of Christ to pasture by ministering the sacraments, by preaching and teaching the word, and in giving spiritual counsel and direction. What happens within these walls, and Fr Dale’s office and over the phone, day by day and week by week, is the concrete means through which Christ the Good Shepherd cares for us, his sheep.
But there is yet one more level of depth in understanding that I believe we are called to explore and experience. Bishops and presbyters bear the sign of Christ the shepherd in a focused and publicly visible way, but we have no monopoly on the ministry of pastoral care! Deacons, for instance, bear the sign of servanthood in a focused and publicly visible way, not so the rest of us can leave all the servanthood to the Deacon, but in order to call and empower all of us to greater servanthood. In the same way, bishops and priests tend the flock in order to empower members of the flock to be shepherds to one another and to those outside the flock! In a well-ordered flock of Christian sheep, everyone is both on the receiving end and the giving end of pastoral care. My job, and Fr Dale’s job, as members of the institutional order of shepherds is to represent the master shepherd by knowing where the greenest pasture and the coolest water is and to lead the flock there. Your job, if I may be so bold, the job of all the baptized, all the sheep of the flock, is to represent the master shepherd in loving and caring and trusting relationships with one another and with those sheep who have gone astray or who have no flock to which they belong. It is in these relationships, between sheep who are also shepherds to one another, that concrete, day-to-day, gut-level pastoral care takes place. When a sheep is in need or crisis, or is in danger of drifting or being carried away from the flock, this is where pastoral first-aid is delivered, pastoral care that might not happen at all if everyone waited for the "professional" shepherd to arrive on the scene.
I realize that what I've been describing may seem much more like an ideal than a living reality, in this or in 99 out of 100 other parish churches. I would tend to agree with this assessment. But it's an ideal that is very much part of the vision the "master shepherd" has given us for one church of the Diocese of Springfield, and for St George’s. It's a vision of the church truly and tangibly "living into" its identity as the body of Christ. If we indeed are the body of Christ, and Christ is the Good Shepherd, then we are called to share in and to give substance to his shepherding ministry.
Today, I rededicate myself to the promises I have made to be a faithful shepherd, under the authority of the Good Shepherd, to lead this portion of Christ's flock in central and southern Illinois into green pastures through the sacraments, through the ministry of the Word, and through spiritual leadership. I also rededicate myself to supporting the ministries of all the members of the order of shepherds who have been called to assist me, including your Rector, whom I challenge in turn to not hoard all the shepherding that needs to be done here, but rather, to join me in challenging each of you to rededicate yourselves to the vows of your baptism, to the exciting ministry of being sheep who are also shepherds, so that each of us may be so nourished and formed that we recognize without fail the voice of him who calls us each by name. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Yesterday went smoothly at first. The spring meeting of the Living Church Foundation board convened around 8:15am at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, and we finished all the business on our agenda by noon. After enjoying lunch together, I headed off in my rental car with a board colleague to DFW airport, jumped through all the hoops, boarded my flight to Chicago, and arrived at O'Hare around 5:15. I had a four hour layover before the puddle jump to Springfield, and was successfully killing time walking and reading (not at the same time) when I received a message on my phone a little past 7:30 that the flight had been cancelled. Mechanical issues. Color me suspicious, but there wasn't much to do except high-tail it to the car rental area, procure a vehicle, and point it south. Fortified with ample caffeine, I made the drive from the O'Hare Oasis on I-294 to my home in Springfield in three hours flat, arriving practically right at the stroke of 1am. I was motivated.
Today I rested some, walked some, shopped some, ran some errands (which included exchanging the rental car for my own and grabbing my luggage from the successful arrival of a flight from O'Hare), unpacked, put the finishing touches on tomorrow's sermon, processed my email inbox, organized my tasks, packed yet again, and headed south to the Hilton Garden in O'Fallon, ready to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter (which coincides with a popular secular observance) tomorrow at St George's, Belleville.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Since my duties to my fellow Living Church Foundation board members did not begin until dinner tonight, I had some time to kill in Dallas before that event. Careful to choose a movie that Brenda would never get excited about seeing, I caught a late morning screening of Draft Day. When I watched Moneyball in 2011, I saw parallels between what I do and what a sports GM does--in that case, thinking strategically and making creative use of modest resources. This one was about how leaders have to make difficult decisions under pressure of both time and the divergent expectations of others. Something I've experienced a bit of in the last few months. In the afternoon, I caught up on some reading, and was treated to the excitement of a violent thunderstorm and 45 minutes under a tornado warning. We were told to remain in our rooms and stay away from windows, instructions with which I endeavored to comply. While I was waiting for my dinner companions to arrive, I had a substantive phone conversation with the wardens and three other members of the cathedral Chapter over some administrative and financial issues.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
We concluded our Forward Movement board meeting ahead of schedule ... before 10am. So, since Executive Director Scott Gunn was my eventual ride to the airport, he and I hung out a bit, enjoying a brief excursion and lunch at the National Gallery of Art before making the trip out to Dulles. So, eventually ... from Dulles to Dallas, about 3o minutes behind schedule. Now about to tuck myself in at the Doubletree Campbell Centre.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
I've been in Washington, DC since yesterday afternoon, but, to my horror, I'm in the dark ages ... aka a hotel room without functional wifi that my computer will connect with. For some arcane reason, my iPad does connect, but it's verrrrrrry slow. So, since my circumstances are so straitened, I won't say much. The board meeting of Forward Movement has been going well. An added bonus is our location on the grounds of Washington Csthedral, where we have enjoyed choral evensong the last two evenings. The meeting ends at midday tomorrow. Then I fly on to Dallas for another board meeting ('tis the season). In odd moments, I've also managed to attend to emerging issues back home via email. The voice transcription feature on iOS7 has been a blessing.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
St Bartholomew's, Granite City--Luke 24:13-35
Great 50 days … season of Easter … Sundays give us tome to unpack the various biblical narratives of the risen Christ
Today takes us back to the very day of the resurrection … Cleopas and his unnamed companion were distraught and disoriented … they had been disciples of Jesus (not the inner core, but disciples nonetheless), and their whole mental map of near-term reality was destroyed by Jesus’ death
You and I spend much of our time distraught (real and anticipated loss [personal, national, church], disillusionment, aging and decline)
They encounter the risen Jesus, but there’s something about his resurrected body that prevents them from recognizing him
Again, we are in a position to empathize … you and I are under vows to “seek and serve Christ in every person,” so there’s a real sense in which we can say we have encountered the risen Jesus. But there’s a good chance we haven’t known it! We’re not always attuned to recognizing him, and even when we are, he’s pretty difficult to see in a lot of people we know or meet!
The Emmaus Road disciples engage with the one whom they have met, but know only dimly. Jesus puts their recent experience in the context of a larger story that they are familiar with, breaking open the (OT) scriptures in such a way that they are able to connect some dots … Jesus begins to emerge from the fog
We come together here Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and holy day by holy day … we engage the same scriptures (along with many others) that Cleopas and his companion engaged with Jesus …. somebody (preacher) shines a light on them and breaks them open for us in such a way that we are able to connect some dots, and Jesus begins to emerge from the fog of our imaginations and memories and take real shape and context in our lives
They arrive at Emmaus and share a meal together … Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives … suddenly they know him for who he has been all along … he is “known to them” in the “breaking of the bread”
After engaging the word, we mimic the action of the meal: take, bless, break, and give. Jesus is present to us and known to us, ministering to us and feeding us with his very self, his very life.
The pattern laid out in this story became the pattern for our regular celebration of the Eucharist. In our reading from Acts (Vol. 2 of the set in which the gospel is Vol. 1), Luke tells us that the early Christians were faithful in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (just as we promise in our baptismal vows). The “breaking of bread” is a euphemism for the Eucharist. It is central to our experience of Jesus now, even as it has been since the very first Easter day itself.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Friday, May 2, 2014
Indulged myself in a "natural" wake-up time, which meant that I was packed and on the road toward home around 10am. Learning of the passing early this morning of Fr Dick Bennett, one of the senior priests of the diocese. Spoke by phone with his son Chris and with their parish priest, Fr Halt. I arrived in Springfield around 3pm, unpacked, rested a bit, and took a long, hard walk. Worked for a while on an upcoming sermon. After dinner, went with Brenda to the season finale of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra season. Copland and Mahler. Very nice.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Spent the day on the Nashotah House campus, wearing my official Chairman of the Board hat on the occasion of the Presiding Bishop's first visit to the seminary. Matins and Mass, breakfast, a look at the new coffee house where the main part of the bookstore used to be. During morning classes, I found a computer with an internet connection in the library and processed a bunch of email. After lunch I met with the Associate Dean for Finance & Administration and the Academic Dean over a range of matters. After a little more (too little) library time, it was back to Adams Hall for a colloquy during which Bishop Katharine responded to a range of questions. There was one candid exchange around a challenging topic, but it never got close to "drama." Then there was Evensong, after which she delivered a eulogy for the late Deacon Terry Starr. After dinner, I hung out a bit with the new and old bishops of Fond du lac, taking a tour of the library, chapel, and sacristy, guided by the Academic Dean. Bedding down now in my Oconomowoc hotel room, with a very noisy party going on in what sounds like the next room.