Thursday, October 30, 2014
- Usual Thursday morning quality time with the Bowflex and the treadmill.
- Launched the next volley of email negotiations with Nashotah board members for winter meeting dates.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Off to Bloomington around 9:30. While en route, spoke for the first time with the newly-appointed search committee chair for the Episcopal Parish of Alton. I believe we have both gotten onto the same page.
- Met at St Matthew's with the members of the Spiritual Vitality Team, Frs Kellington and Halt.
- Lunch with Fr Halt, with him alternating between his "Rector of St Matthew's" and "Standing Committee President" hats.
- Back at the office around 3pm.
- Wrote my Chairman of the Board column for the Lent 2015 issue of Nashotah's quarterly magazine, The Missioner. (Yes, the work that far ahead.)
- Took my homily for Proper 27 (November 9 in Rantoul) from developed notes to rough draft stage. E
- vening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
- Daily task planning at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared for presiding and preaching at the midday Mass.
- Attended briefly to an administrative matter with the Archdeacon.
- Fleshed out, refined, and printed my homily for this Sunday at All Saints, Morton.
- Began an email to the Nashotah House trustees for the purpose of beginning calendar negotiations for a special January meeting.
- Attended to my midday Mass duties.
- Lunch at home -- leftovers.
- Finished the email I had begun before lunch.
- To my dismay, I spent the rest of the afternoon wrestling with technology ... iMovie, to be specific. A victory of sorts was mine in the end, and the final session of my 2013 Lenten teaching series (yes, a year and half late) is now edited (crudely) and uploaded. Reading the Bible for Dummies. See it here.
- Evening Prayer in the car on the way home.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
- Task planning at home; 38 active tasks.
- Culled a pile of hard copy items on my desk.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon on a variety of pastoral and administrative matters.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Looked over a draft Letter of Agreement between a vestry and a priest.
- Conceived, hatched, and erected the infrastructure of a homily for this Sunday (behind the curve on this one) at All Saints, Morton (yes, on their feast of title).
- Attended the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel, celebrating the major feast of Ss Simon & Jude.
- Lunch at home--leftover Chinese.
- Reviewed and processed documents and otherwise debriefed from last week's Nashotah House board of trustees meeting.
- Hand wrote notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with nodal events in November.
- Took a 15 minute walk around the neighborhood.
- Evaluated the details pertaining to a Class of 2011 bishops continuing education gathering this April ... in Cuba. (The Bishop of Cuba, while not technically part of the Episcopal Church, is an honorary member of our class, having shared the College for Bishops program with us.) It's a little on the spendy side, but, since I didn't go to Taiwan last month, I made the decision to attend this one (solo, no Brenda, even though spouses are invited).
- Responded to an email from a priest regarding an individual in the ordination discernment process.
- Filled out a post-meeting evaluation for the annual assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches that took place about three weeks ago. I had a few opinions.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Monday, October 27, 2014
Made a guest appearance out of day-off seclusion in order to attend a Nashotah House fund-raising event in the Great Hall of St Paul's Cathedral. What an honor to welcome Bishop Michael Marshall, honorary assisting bishop in the Diocese of London, to the Diocese of Springfield. He gave the retreat addresses at the House last week, and is along for the seven-city tour aimed at securing a predictable and sustainable income stream for this 172-year old institution.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Usual morning Nashotah routine through breakfast (with Fr Philip Cunningham delivering a most excellent homily on Christian unity at the Mass). Then it was time to prepare for presiding at the 10:30am academic convocation, during which it was my duty to confer four honorary doctorates ... in flawless Latin, of course. Of of these was to a long time friend, Canon David Seger, who was the deployment officer at the House at the time I graduated in 1989, but who has myriad other stellar accomplishments. It was a joy. After visiting with several people during and after lunch in the refectory--some of these visits purely social and some substantive--I trudged back up to my lodging in the Fort, packed up my stuff, and pointed the YFNBmobile east and south. About two and half hours later, I retrieved Brenda at the METRA station in Downers Grove, IL; she had ridden Amtrak up from Springfield in the morning. We're camped out in a hotel for the night now. Tomorrow one of my brothers is getting married in nearby Wheaton, so it's a family occasion. No visitation this weekend; we'll be heading home Sunday PM. Going dark in this venue until Tuesday.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Same morning chapel routine as yesterday ... met with the Nominating Committee of the board over breakfast ... plenary session reconvened at 9:30 ... very intense, sometimes difficult, but ultimately productive work, with a quick break for lunch and individual publicity photos for the Nashotah website, until we recessed for Evening Prayer and Solemn Eucharist at 4:30, during which time, among other things, we heard a search committee report, negotiated an agreement, and elected the 20th Dean and President of the seminary. Not bad for a day's work. It was my joy to announce it three times: first to the faculty before the liturgy, then to the students afterward, and to the larger community gathered for dinner in the refectory. Sadly, our work wasn't done, so we had a 90 minute evening session of the board. My brain is fried.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Morning Prayer and Mass with the Nashotah community ... breakfast in the refectory ... conferred informally with various trustees as the morning progressed and committee meetings got underway ... sat in for a bit with the Audit Committee, then with the Institutional Vitality Committee ... lunch off campus (because it was grilled cheese in the refectory, which does not comport with the strict diet I'm four weeks into ... convened the full board of trustees at 1:30 and adjourned at 4:20 ... Evensong in the chapel ... cocktails and "heavy hors d'oeuvres in the deanery.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Up, out, and headed north a little past 8am. Arrived on campus at Nashotah House around 1:30. Checked in at the Dean's office, conversed with some fellow trustees, sat in on a retreat address (the students are in silence while we're here, which is a little awkward/weird) from Bishop Michael Marshall (one of my favorites), got settled in my lodging (third floor of Webb Hall, aka "the Fort"), walked to the chapel for Evensong, waked to the deanery for cocktails with Dean Salmon, three other trustees, and the Academic Dean. Then, out to dinner in nearby Hartland with Canon Koehler and his wife Terry, and Fr Dow Sanderson (trustee, and rector of Holy Communion, Charleston, SC).
Monday, October 20, 2014
Preached and celebrated at both regular Masses at Emmanuel--8:00 and 10:30. Met for about 30 minutes with the confirmands between services--two youth and four adults. I made sure they knew it wasn't too late to back out, since publicly promising to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord is kind of a life-changing deal, but none of them did. Emmanuel always has outstanding music and well-executed liturgy; it's a tonic to my soul. After the liturgy we were treated to a Mexican lunch by uber-deacon Chris Hopkins and her husband Mike. Got home around 3:30, and after trying and failing to complete my usual walking route, I crashed hard in a pre-dinner nap. Guess I needed it.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Emmanuel, Champaign--Matthew 22:15-22, Isaiah 45:1-7
Ever since the beginning of June, we have been methodically exploring the gospel according to St Matthew in our Sunday liturgies. We’ve heard something of our Lord’s teaching and preaching, using both parables and direct discourse; his relationship with his disciples, and stories of miraculous healing. As the Season after Pentecost draws toward a close in about five weeks’ time, Matthew’s narrative takes us into the final weeks of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and he builds tension in the plot of his story by turning up the fire under the relationship between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment—primarily the Pharisees. Matthew paints these folks as Jesus’ adversaries. They engage in a series of attempts to entrap him—to get him to contradict himself, either verbally or in his behavior, or to say something that would offend one of the stakeholders in a very tense and unstable political environment—and thereby discredit his ministry, and send him packing back off to Galilee to live the rest of his life in shameful obscurity. They come up with what they believe is the ideal ambush. One of the elements in the volatile political atmosphere was a poll tax imposed by the Roman occupation on the local Jewish population. The fact that this tax was used to finance an oppressive regime was bad enough, but—to add insult to injury—the Romans required that it be paid in Roman coins, which bore the image of Caesar, and thereby forced Jews to violate one of the most sacred precepts of their law—the prohibition against graven images. So the Pharisees, in a dubious alliance with the Herodians, a minority faction that supported the puppet government of King Herod—put this question to Jesus: Should we or should we not be paying the poll tax? So, if Jesus answers Yes, he will offend the majority of the population and lose his base of support. If he answers No, he will be in immediate trouble with the Roman occupiers, who might just take it upon themselves to do him in completely, which neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians would have a particular problem with. They figured they had him on the horns of an impossible dilemma
Now, this situation in first century Palestine raises questions that have contemporary relevance. It speaks to the relationship between our civil obligations—which include, among other things, paying our taxes—and our religious obligations as Christians—at least as far as we’re concerned here and now, although the same issues would be raised no matter what one’s religious commitment is, because religion, by definition, is what the physicists call a “theory of everything”; that is, when push comes to shove, religion trumps even our civil obligations. A case in point for those who are late middle-aged or older: In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for President, we had never in our history had a Roman Catholic in that office, and a great many people were worried whether, because of the strong hierarchical structure of that church, the Vatican might be calling the shots in the Oval Office. We pretty much got over those fears, so much so that, in 2004, when another Irish-American Roman Catholic won the Democratic nomination, it was the opposite question that bothered many church leaders: Would a “President Kerry” be faithful to Catholic moral teaching, or would he leave his religious convictions on the White House lawn?
But it’s not just our political leaders that face these questions. If we actually stop and think, they concern each of us, not only when we go into a voting booth, but whenever we write a check to the IRS, or the Illinois Department of Revenue, or look at a pay stub and see how much has been deducted for taxes. What happens when we conscientiously disagree with our political leaders, and are forced to pay taxes that support policies we consider immoral? What about Christians who live in countries with oppressive or authoritarian regimes? What about those whose taxes are used to support corruption or vice or even genocide?
If we look to the rest of scripture to shed light on these questions, what we see can often seem contradictory. The thirteenth chapter of Romans takes a very pro-government position, and tells us that government officials are put where they are by God, and that we owe them our loyalty and obedience. On the other hand, the Old Testament is full of stories about unrighteous governments being overthrown at God’s command and with God’s help. At the time of Jesus, the Maccabean Revolt—a successful insurrection of Jews against their Greek overlords—was no longer in living memory, but was fresh enough history to be on everyone’s mind.
So Jesus’ adversaries figure they have him between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They figure he’s cooked, no matter what he says—it’s just a matter of whether he’s going to be fried or baked. So how does Jesus respond? He responds by refusing to accept the premise of the question, he refuses to impale himself on the proposed dilemma. Jesus notes Caesar’s image on the coin with which the tax is paid, and reminds his hearers that, as much as they may despise the Roman occupation, and as much as they may rightfully resent the fact that there’s a graven image on Roman coins, the fact is that they enjoy tangible benefit from the civil and economic structure that Rome provides, and so they do indeed owe something to Caesar: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's…” Jesus says. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
But we must note well the implication in the phrase “the things that are Caesar’s.” The implication is that some things are not Caesar’s. Caesar’s domain is contingent, not absolute. Caesar’s domain is temporal, not eternal. Which sets us up for the “other shoe” to drop: “…and to God the things that are God's." Render to God the things that are God’s. God’s domain is universal. God’s domain is eternal. There is nothing that is not God’s. Even what looks like it belongs to Caesar ultimately belongs to God. Today’s reading from Isaiah talks about the Persian King Cyrus—a really nasty dude who brutally conquered every nation he set his eye on—God, speaking through Isaiah, refers to Cyrus as his “anointed” because God was going to accomplish God’s own purposes through the agency of this unwitting Persian king. Now, we need to understand the significance of the term “anointed.” In the Hebrew, it is nothing other than “Messiah”, which, in turn, is the basis for the Greek word “Christ”! This is tantamount to God saying to Americans during the Cold War: The Soviet Union is accomplishing my purposes without desiring or knowing it; the Chairman of the Communist Party is my Chosen One, my Messiah, my Christ.” No less shocking were Isaiah’s words about Cyrus to his original Jewish readers.
God can use whatever vessels he chooses, even corrupt and wicked human governments. It is our obligation to render to the human government under which we live whatever may be legitimately due to them, even, on occasion, our very lives. But God alone commands our ultimate loyalty. Human governments—democratic or otherwise—deserve our respect and our submission, but only to the point where such loyalty and submission conflict with the demands of loyalty to God. Of course, this is often a difficult line to draw, and while we might hope that the readings today would offer us some help in making that distinction, unfortunately, they don’t. And what makes things worse is that Christians in good faith can draw the line in different places, and that can create some tension within the Body of Christ. So we need to be patient and forbearing of one another, as some among us see the current administration and its policies as righteous and good, while others among us see that administration and those policies as wicked and unjust. Remember, both the ideal King David and the tyrannical conqueror Cyrus are referred to in scripture as God’s “anointed.” Yet, we all—whatever our political persuasion might be—need to be ever vigilant for the place where loyalty to “Caesar” conflicts with our more fundamental loyalty to God. Because the only thing worse than failing to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, is to inadvertently render to Caesar that which is God’s alone.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Up and out and headed ahead in time for a 10:30am arrival at Emmanuel, Champaign, where we proceeded to duly celebrate the new ministry of their rector, the Revd Beth Maynard. After the reception, I attended the regular October meeting of Emmanuel's vestry, and took the opportunity to develop with them what a Canon for Mission Development might accomplish, both both Emmanuel and for the whole diocese. Brenda and I then checked into our hotel, enjoyed a little down time, and then met Beth and her husband, Mark Dirksen, for dinner in downtown Champaign's burgeoning restaurant scene.
St Luke's Day--Ecclesiasticus 38: 1-4, 6-10, 12-13; II Timothy 4:5-13
It’s a joy to be in Champaign, and at Emmanuel, for the weekend! Some of you I’ll see just today, but others of you I’ll see today and tomorrow, when I’m here for my regular annual visitation.
I’m doubly glad that, as the calendar chips fell, we’re celebrating the new ministry of Beth Maynard at Emmanuel on St Luke’s Day. By long and strong tradition, Luke is the author of a two-volume work of fairly-sophisticated literature—at least any beginning student of New Testament Greek would tell you it’s sophisticated—a two-volume work, consisting of the gospel that bears his name, occurring third in the customary numerical order of the gospels, and the Act of the Apostles, which begins with Our Lord’s Ascension, and goes on to chronicle the day of Pentecost, the earliest history of the Church, and the missionary endeavors of St Paul. Again, by tradition, Luke was a physician, whatever that might have meant 2000 years ago.
So it’s not surprising at all to find, both in Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts, a strong thread of interest in the ministry of healing. In Luke’s gospel, healing emerges as the preeminent focal point of Jesus’ ministry—healing motivated by and accompanied by deep empathy and compassion. Jesus seems to have been emotionally invested in what he was doing. In Acts, healings are equally abundant, especially so in the early chapters, and always, of course, in the name of Jesus.
Luke having been a physician explains the choice of the reading from Ecclesiasticus 38 on his feast day. Mother Beth is not a physician, but she is an agent of the Great Physician, and so is here to exercise a ministry of ongoing healing. Healing is called for when a body is broken, or isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. The problem that calls for healing can be something quite physical and discoverable, which is why we have physicians like Luke and his professional descendants. But it can also be a dysfunction of the spirit, something that a physician can’t find or help with. Beth is trained and formed to be a physician of the soul. Now, along the way, she might become your friend, or she might not. You might turn out to like her, or you might now; she might end up liking you, or she might not. But all that’s beside the point, because at the core of her reason for being the rector of Emmanuel is to care for your soul, to point you to Jesus, to redirect you when you lose your focus. She’s not responsible for getting you into heaven, but she is responsible for pointing out the way. So, dear people of Emmanuel, let her do her job. Let her be the physician of your souls, and don’t distract her from that with all sorts of busy work. Work with her to help her keep the main thing the main thing.
We also hear from St Paul this morning, by way of his second letter to Timothy. Now, it’s pretty anachronistic to speak of things like “ordination” and “bishops” when we’re still looking at the mid-to-late first century, but if we were to follow the evolutionary trajectory of those terms backwards in time, we might be able to say that Paul had ordained Timothy to be the first bishop of the church of the city of Ephesus. In any case, Timothy had pastoral oversight responsibility, so, when we read this epistle, we’re listening in on some advice from a senior pastor to a junior pastor. Paul tells Timothy, “Always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” I am confident that Mother Beth will “do the work of an evangelist” among you as she exercises her ministry in this place. In season and out of season, she will indefatigably proclaim, in the words of the Victorian warhorse hymn, “tidings of Jesus,” good news of “redemption and release.”
Now, let’s look back to Ecclesiasticus for a bit, as the author lauds the medical profession: “There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and healing, for the sake of preserving life.” This is not easy work, I have to tell you, although it probably comes as no surprise. In doing this work of caring for souls, in doing this work of proclaiming good news, borrowing language now from II Timothy as Paul speaks of himself, Beth will also be “poured out as a libation.” That’s the ominous fate she has assumed in her ordination. Pastoral ministry is a life in which one expects to be expended, poured out onto the ground. One of the more difficult and heartbreaking ways this experience of being poured out happens is that the pastor gets betrayed by someone thought to be a close friend. Paul laments to Timothy about a fellow named Demas, who, “in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Cresens has gone to Galatia,” and “Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” And that’s how this passage made it into the lectionary for the day, with the mention of Luke alone sticking with Paul, probably imprisoned in Rome near the end of his days. Over time, I expect Beth will probably develop her list of “deserters” such as Paul mentions here, only saying instead of “only Luke is with me,” perhaps, “only Mark is with me!”
But, for you own sake, if not for hers, do not let Beth pour herself out too much too quickly. For she herself is also in need of ongoing healing, and one place she needs to find that healing grace is from those among whom she ministers. Never forget, although I think I hardly need to remind this particular parish, that you have an investment in your rector’s spiritual health. If she ever gets to the point when she’s beginning to run on Empty, then she’s got nothing to give you. So, hold her accountable about taking her day off, taking her vacation, and seeing to it that her well is regularly replenished, so she can be the pastor and leader you deserve. And most of all, help make it possible for her to say, echoing the words of Paul to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry!”
Emmanuel Memorial Church, rector and people together, is called to be an icon, a vibrant sign, of healing and wholeness. Caring for one another, under the leadership of your priest and pastor—and, I might add, in communion with your bishop and the rest of your family in the one church of the Diocese of Springfield—you are today embracing your vocation to be a herald and a witness. As a herald, your constant message is, “The brokenness of the world is not the last word. God has the last word, and that word is health, wholeness, and life.” As a witness, your job is to model what you proclaim, to be a community that, in Christ your head, embraces health, wholeness, and life, for the sake of the world for whom Jesus died.
Blessed Luke, pray for us … and praised be Jesus Christ.
Friday, October 17, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Got to work writing a post-synod reflection for the website--and eventually for our print product, the Springfield Current. This took me right up to noon, but the work was interrupted twice for important and substantive conversations, one with the Archdeacon and one with the Interim Provost. The usual vague subject category applies: "administrative and pastoral issue" (where one is found, the other is usually not far away).
- Lunch at home--microwaved Indian food.
- Reviewed and approved a request for a marital judgment.
- Scanned and otherwise processed hardcopy from my physical inbox.
- Took a walk four blocks south, two blocks west, then north and east to complete the circuit.
- Dealt with a couple of long-outstanding emails that were never urgent and only marginally important, but out of regard for the sender they needed to have their 15 minutes of fame.
- Friday prayer: Lectio divina on today's daily office reading from Ecclesiasticus. There was a lot there about discipline, patience, prudence, and keeping one's mouth shut until the right moment. I took an inventory of my habits in those areas.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
- Customary Thursday workout: weights and treadmill.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Got back to work on master sermon planning from Advent until Lent. This is time-consuming because it involves rifling through old material (the advantage of preaching as long as I have is that I have lots of old material for most any liturgical occasion) and discerning whether it can be taken out of storage and refitted, or whether I need to start from scratch. The task took me almost until noon.
- Attended to some irksome and petty requests from the company with whom I am attempt to refinance some real estate.
- Lunch at home--Brenda's homemade "Cincinnati-style" (inspired thereby, at least) chili.
- Walked down to Illinois National Bank to arrange for a wire transfer from my discretionary fund to the Diocese of Tabora to help with some of the clergy availing themselves of a continuing education opportunity in neighboring Kenya.
- Refind and printed a working text for my homily this Sunday at Emmanuel, Champaign.
- Placed an online order for a couple of books from Forward Movement.
- Composed and sent an email to Bishop Godfrey of Peru, our other companion diocese.
- Attempted to download and install some firmware (whatever that is) for the diocesan video camera. Not sure whether I succeeded.
- Closed the loop via email with three pending matters of administrivia.
- Evening Prayer in the car on the way to pick up a repaired pair of glasses from the optician before heading home.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared for my regular Wednesday midday Mass duty.
- Refined and printed my homily for Saturday's institution of the Revd Beth Maynard as rector of Emmanuel, Champaign.
- Spoke by phone with a consultant to the Nashotah House board of trustees.
- Attended the regular monthly meeting a clergy associated with the cathedral. We mostly just "waste time," but I mean that in a good way. Simply maintaining relationships bears fruit in the long term.
- Celebrated and preached the Mass for the lesser feast of St Teresa of Avila.
- Lunch at home; leftovers.
- Kept a 2pm dental hygiene appointment.
- Back at the office ... returned a couple of phone calls.
- Wrote (and printed and signed and scanned and attached to an email) a letter licensing a lay person as a Pastoral Leader under the canons, to take care of one of our parishes in transition.
- Dashed off a hand-written note to Bishop Parsons, who broke his ankle last week, after twice unsuccessfully trying to reach him by phone,
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Grabbed some dinner from Subway, bringing it back to my office to consume.
- Worked on master sermon planning for the period from the beginning of Advent until the beginning of Lent. Did not complete this task, so it will have to continue tomorrow.
- Attended the regular October meeting of the cathedral chapter (on which I have seat, voice, and vote).
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
- Between incoming phone calls, impromptu confabs, and other distractions, Morning Prayer got lost in the shuffle. Doesn't happen often, thankfully.
- Conferred with the Treasurer and the Archdeacon over an administrative/financial matter.
- Took a call from a priest outside the diocese who is interested in exploring deployment possibilities within the diocese.
- Dealt with some administrative matters and appointment requests via email.
- Placed an order by phone for a new zucchetto (the purple skullcap I wear when vested). Those things are tiny and easy to lose, and last weekend's synod seems to have consumed mine somewhere.
- Replied in kind to a hard-copy letter from a lay person in the diocese who does not use email. This is a pretty rare occurrence.
- Took a walk of six or eight blocks in length.
- Did some calendar maintenance that really belongs at the beginning of the month, but got delayed. This spurred making a hotel reservation for an occasion that had been previously overlooked.
- Lunch at home; leftovers. Worked from home thereafter.
- Placed a phone order for a nest of starched cotton clergy collars.
- Reviewed an email from one of our clergy regarding some concerns over a parish that he has some knowledge of.
- Developed and fleshed out notes toward a homily for this Sunday (Emmanuel, Champaign).
- Reviewed an email pertaining to a pastoral/administrative concern. Plotted further action.
- Brief walk around the neighborhood.
- Left at 3pm for points east.
- Had dinner in Danville with the vestry of Holy Trinity Church. There is some anxiety in the system over the retirement of their longtime rector, who continues to serve them as a supply priest. I believe we injected some stability and lowered anxiety. Arrived back home at 9:45.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Up and out in time to arrive plenty early--since Mrs YFNB was the guest organist and needed time on an unfamiliar instrument--for the regular 9:30 liturgy at St Thomas'. The place seems to be thriving under the pastoral leadership of Fr David Baumann. Delicious post-liturgical repast (par for the course in that parish). We arrived back in Springfield a little past 2:00.
St Thomas', Salem--Matthew 22:1-14
Some of you know that Brenda and I are the parents of three grown children, and two granddaughters—Charlotte, who is almost six, and Elsa, who is three-and-a-half. Recently their parents sent us a photo, which is now attached to the door of our refrigerator, of Charlotte in a baseball cap with a bat over her shoulder. She was apparently part of a T-ball team for kids her age. One of the virtually inevitable rites-of-passage in child-rearing in our society, it seems, is some participation in organized sports—whether it’s T-ball for five-year olds or high school varsity football. At the younger ages, I’ve noticed a pronounced trend away from exposing our kids to any potential hurt feelings and toward bolstering their ego and self-confidence. This starts with rules like “everybody gets to play equally, regardless of ability” and ends with the rather counter-intuitive practice of having a game at which no one is allowed to keep score, so there is no winning side and no losing side.
The theologian within me is not totally unsympathetic to these practices and the motives behind them. What a wonderful illustration of the nature of God’s grace: generously abundant, freely bestowed, no one’s relationship with God comes at the expense of anyone else’s, everyone who finishes the race, even those who come in last, gets a prize, a crown no less glorious than the one awarded to the first contestant to cross the line. God’s grace is extravagant, and it is fitting that we find ways to joyfully proclaim that fact. Jesus offers us an open invitation to come and follow him, but what most people don’t realize is that what lies at the end of the road he wants us to follow him on is a party, a great banquet, an occasion of celebration the likes of which we have scarcely even imagined. Jesus himself, you know, had a reputation—an not entirely savory reputation—as a party animal, who knew how to have a good time and liked to hang around people who knew how to have a good time. That’s probably why he tells so many stories about parties.
Today we hear one of those stories—about a king whose son is getting married, and he wants to make sure the banquet hall is filled. He invites several hundred of his closest friends, but as the hour of celebration draws near, nobody is showing up. So he falls back on Plan B, and extends the invitation far and wide: virtually anyone who was willing to show up at such short notice would be welcome. Again, an appropriate indicator of the nature of divine grace.
When I served in the Diocese of San Joaquin, about fifteen years ago, during the time when the big Promise Keepers rallies for men were in full swing, the parish adjacent to mine offered an opportunity for “open baptism” right after the Promise Keepers event. The supposition was that a number of men would experience a spiritual awakening at Promise Keepers and want to respond to the invitation by being baptized. So the rector scheduled and publicized this opportunity for baptism where the only questions to be asked would be those actually in the Prayer Book service—no classes, no examinations, no waiting—just show up, tell the priest your name, and get baptized.
This, too, reflects an attitude that is congruent with the extravagance of grace. The scholars and technicians of what might be called “ecclesiastical sociology”—the study of the way people behave within churches—make a distinction between “high demand” and “low demand” congregations. A low demand church is one which accentuates the freedom, the spontaneity, the lavish wastefulness of God’s favor. Anybody is welcome, any time—no requirements for membership, minimal rules and expectations, you can just come, you can get involved just a little, or you can get involved a lot. Nobody’s going to hassle you either way. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, we honor that place, and you’re welcome to be with us. Not too different in approach, really, from the Little League games where you get to swing at the ball until you hit it, the team stays up at bat until everybody has had a turn, and when the bats and balls are put away at the end of the day, no one remembers what the score was.
But as we know, not all sporting organizations are run along those lines. The older a child gets, the less likely he or she is to encounter such an environment. At the high school football games that were played here in Marion County last Friday night, each one had a winner and each one had a loser, and the players with the most time on the field were the ones whom the coaches judged to be the most able. At the Olympic Games, only one person gets the gold medal in each event, and if you finish last, your friends don’t even get to see you on TV. Even Babe Ruth, the largest legendary giant in the history of baseball, got traded by the Yankees when they thought he was over the hill.
Now, the theologian in me also sees potential in these somewhat harsh facts of life as well. St Paul compares the life of a Christian to that of a soldier, and several passages of Scripture pit the forces of Good against the forces of Evil, all arrayed in battle. Military endeavor calls for discipline and commitment. There is no room for half-measures, for faintheartedness, for partial conversion to the cause. It’s all or nothing. Count the cost and choose your weapon. The salvation of your soul and the welfare of the world is at stake. This is not a game, this is war. And you’d better not be caught out of uniform, or else you might be shot as a spy.
At the end of the same parable of extravagant grace which forms the first part of today’s gospel reading, is a contrasting incident which is really quite jarring in its context. It was probably originally a stand-alone parable, and made sense in its own right. But Matthew has combined the two into one. The King—presumably the same fellow who issued the blanket invitation, “Y’all come” —is circulating through the banquet hall greeting his guests. He runs into one poor fellow who is not properly attired. Maybe the invitation had specified “white tie” and he was wearing a black one, I don’t know. But he is somehow not appropriately dressed for the occasion.
And the consequences are catastrophic—the King orders his servants to seize the man, bind him, and, in effect, throw him in the dungeon. That seems a little drastic to our modern sensibilities, but, in any case, it seems that the fellow should have known better, that he would legitimately have had access to the proper attire, but was too lazy, and was, in fact, disrespectful of his host.
There is a strong strand within the Christian tradition that emphasizes discipline and preparedness and high expectations. In the second, third, and fourth centuries, baptismal preparation lasted a full three years. Entire occupations and professions were on a forbidden list—actors and soldiers among them!—and if you practiced one of those trades, you either had to find a new job or not get baptized. Several witnesses were required to testify to the quality and integrity of your life as a Christian. Shortly after this same era, the monastic movement developed and flourished, with its classic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And in our own day, there are those churches which the ecclesiastical sociologists classify as “high demand.” A high demand congregation has clear and unbending standards for membership. Sometimes one must give written assent to a detailed doctrinal statement. There is a strong expectation of attendance at church every Sunday, and sometimes more than once on a Sunday, and often during the week as well. It is presumed that everybody, of whatever age, is involved in some form of ongoing Christian education in a formal church setting. Tithing is taught and tithing is expected and tithing is practiced. And service is too—members go on mission trips nd knock on doors in the neighborhood and serve as literacy tutors and work in soup kitchens and build low income housing. There is an acute awareness of being involved in an important and serious struggle. And I’ll tell you something: Contrary to what you might think, these high demand churches are generally large and thriving and financially prosperous. To a large extent, people will respond at whatever level seems to be expected of them. If little is asked, little will be given, and if much is asked, much is given.
But there’s no denying that we’re left with a sort of conundrum here, a definite paradox. On the one hand, we’ve got a God who seems wastefully prodigal with his grace and favor, spreading it around like there’s an endless supply of it, because, to tell the truth, there is an endless supply of it. On the other hand, we’ve got a God who wants us to know that, when we were baptized and confirmed, we were enlisted in his army, and he expects us to act accordingly—with discipline, commitment, and heroism to the point of death, if called to such an extreme.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to resolve the paradox in one direction or the other. If we pay attention only to the magnanimous grace, and ignore the demand of military-style discipline, we will end up with a religion that is initially quite attractive, but quickly disappoints, because people will find that it doesn’t cure what ails them, it lacks teeth, it’s a sesame-seed bun with no all-beef patty. And if we pay attention only to the demands of the gospel, and ignore the aspect of God’s playful and unpredictable grace, we will end up with a religion that is potentially quite effective for the salvation of souls and the glory of God, but which nobody practices because nobody can meet the strict qualifications.
But it’s also not a matter of splitting the difference and going down the middle, which, as Anglicans, we can do in our sleep. Paradox is not that way. Paradox demands that the integrity of both horns of the dilemma be maintained. That’s why, even though the two parts of this gospel parable may have originally existed in isolation, the fact that Matthew put them together means that we no longer have the luxury of splitting them apart. The King who issued the open invitation to the party is the same one who severely punished the guest who was not properly dressed. The God who is liberal with his grace also makes unrelenting demands on those who would be his disciples. The gospel of Christ is understood and lived only in a paradoxical tension between extravagant grace and rigorous demand. Resolution will come, but it will come in God’s own time and God’s own way. It is not up to us to force the issue. Our souls’ health depends on accepting the messiness and the ambiguity, the tensions and the conflicts, and trusting God for the outcome.
Praised be Jesus Christ.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Back at the podium calling the synod to order at 8:30am. The main item of business was, of course, the budget, and the discussion was appropriately vigorous, given the implications of the proposed new diocesan staff position. The final vote revealed a synod majority ready to step out of the boat, and even most who did not vote in favor are conceptually supportive. But, as I indicated to the assembly, I will not move to fill the Canon for Mission Development position until we see the actual pledges coming in from the parishes. Even with an extended budget debate, we were finished before 11. Brenda and I stopped for lunch in Litchfield, and, when we got home, I napped long and hard. Synod (on top of my recent travels) was wearing.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Out the door around 9:30 for points south (braving hard rain south of Litchfield). Arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn in O'Fallon, but our room wasn't ready yet, so I plopped my stuff behind the dais in the main meeting room. Hung out a bit with the General Convention deputation as they gathered for the first time in advance of next summer's event. Drove across the interstate to find some lunch, and succeeded at Qdoba. Back to the synod venue, where I was able now to check in and get a room key. Retrieved my gear and moved into my room. Donned a cassock and hiked back to the meeting room (it's quite a trek). Attended to some A/V technicalities and banged the gavel to call the synod to order just a few minutes after our 1:30 target. Everything went smoothly, and we were able to make such progress that there is hope for an early conclusion tomorrow. The liturgy at St Michael's was splendid, as the was the dinner and post-meal entertainment.
This is now the fourth annual synod over which I have presided as Bishop of Springfield. It continues to be a singular honor for which I am grateful on a daily basis. I love the rhythm of a "normal" week—that is, one when I'm not traveling—with four days in the office doing the business of the diocesan center through emails and phone calls and meetings, perhaps an evening on the road to talk with a vestry or search committee, a Saturday to take slightly easy, but usually catching up on some stray bits of business from the week in the office, about a third of the time heading to a hotel somewhere on Saturday night, then the climax of my week—communing in Word and Sacrament with the Lord's own people around the Lord's own table on the Lord's own day. It truly doesn't get any better than that.
And my joy in all of this is made more complete by the people I have to work with. The staff in the diocesan office is something I inherited, which I have learned from some of my colleagues in other dioceses can be a bit of a risky proposition, but in my case, I just plain lucked out. Archdeacon Shawn Denney is veritably my right arm, offering sound advice and always anticipating what will make it easier for me to do my job. Most of you don't need me to tell you that Sue Spring is the gold standard for competence and professionalism. Jim Donkin is a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and has been a stellar steward of the financial resources of this diocese. Jim has let us know that he will be stepping all the way into retirement sometime during the next fifteen months, so there will be a change. In the meantime, I will continue to be grateful for his labors. Most of you probably won't know Molly Henderson, our very part-time clerical assistant. I think if you look up "sweet" and "generous" in the dictionary, you might find Molly's picture in both places. I certainly don't have the largest diocesan staff in the church, by a long shot, but I can't imagine that there's a better one anywhere.
When we broke camp in Decatur a year ago, I thought I knew who the host of the 2014 annual synod should be. But things didn't turn out as I had hoped and expected. Instead, we got something even better. St Michael's is the newest church plant in the diocese—that's not a point for bragging, because it's been three decades—and our largest mission. Fr Ian Wetmore and his flock have been cheerful from Day 1. What a wonderful parish family they are, and what gracious hosts they have been. It's good to be in O'Fallon!
I could probably spend the rest of the afternoon continuing to thank people, but let me just throw out the grandest and hugest expression of thanks I can put into words, to the entire diocese, all the people in all of our 34 Eucharistic Communities, for the overwhelming love and affection that I encounter wherever I go. Thank-you! I love you back.
Every synod address that I've delivered so far has focused heavily on mission strategy. I'm not going to roll out anything new this time, but I do want to give you an update on the progress I think we've made, and pivot from there into a new kind of progress I believe we need to begin making.
As you've heard me say before, our missionary vision is apostolic in its character, but an apostle must first be a disciple, and we probably don't have enough fully-formed Christian disciples among the baptized faithful in the Diocese of Springfield. So what are we doing to make more disciples? Beyond what's going on uniquely in our various Eucharistic Communities, here are some resources that we are endeavoring to refresh, renew, or introduce at a diocesan level:
- Cursillo: Some of you have been on a Cursillo weekend; some of you haven't. Some of you who have been on a Cursillo weekend are growing in your discipleship through piety, study, and action; and some of you aren't. I realize there is a diversity of opinion about Cursillo among the laity and clergy of the diocese. Some of those opinions are negative. Some of those negative opinions, I have to say, have a solid foundation. Others of the negative opinions are based in fear and falsehood. Those who have negative perceptions of Cursillo based on fear and falsehood need to get over it and put the mission of the church ahead of their preferences and prejudices. Those who have negative perceptions that are based in fact need to hear me when I say that I am holding the Cursillo secretariat's feet to the fire over the need to stop living in the 1970s, to quit doing things that foster the notion that Cursillo is some sort of elite cult with a secret handshake. It's not that. It has the potential to play a pivotal role in the development of Christian discipleship in this diocese, and I ask you to get behind it.
- A little later in the synod, Fr Ian Wetmore and Fr Dave Halt are going to talk to us about something called the St Michael's Conference. This is a six-day event for youth--hopefully an annual event. In other places where the St Michael's Conference has been held, it has proven to be an absolute game-changer for the youth who attend. I won't steal any more thunder, but I want you to know how excited I am about this.
- There's a program called Renewal Works that St George's, Belleville has already been through. Renewal Works is an assessment instrument that shines a light on the spiritual maturity and vitality of the people whom you worship with every Sunday. For the Episcopal Church, it's under the umbrella of Forward Movement, the company that publishes the familiar daily devotionals, and on whose board I serve. I would like all of our Eucharistic Communities to participate in Renewal Works. I guarantee you it will give you some information you would probably rather not have, but which is essential for you for the simple reason that it's true.
Moving now to the other bubbles in the far left column of our grand Mission Strategy schema:
- Our Strategy Resource Team, composed of Mark Waight from here in O'Fallon, Archdeacon Denney, and Fr Bruce DeGooyer, has been tasked with developing a step-by-step process by which parishes can discern where within their mission field they are called to focus their energy, and how to organize and equip themselves for their missionary effort. The idea is to create a sort of field manual, something that can be replicated, with slight modifications, and used across the diocese. I'm pleased to say that the good people of Trinity, Mattoon have agreed to serve as guinea pigs for this, to be the ones on whom we make our mistakes, and learn from those mistakes, and further refine what we're doing. That effort in Mattoon is underway, with some measure of hope and enthusiasm on the part of all concerned, I would say. Do stay tuned, because this roadshow will eventually be coming to a church near you.
So, we're doing some good things, I think. We're pointed in the right direction. But here's the problem: It's not happening fast enough. Even though we're headed in the right direction, if we don't pick up the tempo, and pick it up pretty drastically, we're going to be overtaken by two tidal waves—one a demographic tidal wave, because our median age keeps getting older and older, and the other a cultural tidal wave, because the days when Christianity enjoys any sort of privileged position in our society are fading into memory very, very quickly, almost as we speak. We need a steroid shot. We need to turbo-charge our efforts. We need, I believe, to add a Canon for Mission Development as a staff position at the diocesan level. I will admit, I have
only come to this conclusion within the past few months. Until recently, I have taken a perverse sort of pride in the leanness of our staffing in the diocese when I'm comparing notes with my colleagues from other dioceses (though I will admit that I've occasionally been envious of those who have a Communications Officer). But lately I'm repenting of my pride, and this is why I've brought it up, first to the Archdeacon and the Treasurer, then to the Standing Committee, then to the Finance Committee, then to the Diocesan Council, then to the rectors of our larger parishes, then to the Rural Deans, and personally to two deanery meetings, and now to you. As I've said, we're pointed in the right direction and we're doing good things, and now we need somebody who will do those right things on a full-time basis, who will be out in our parishes two or three evenings a week, and quite often on Saturdays, meeting with clergy and vestries and bishop's committees and parishioners, in the trenches, coaching and consulting in that work of discernment, strategizing, preparing, and implementing.
You might say, "Bishop, this sounds good, but we just can't afford it," and you would be right. But we need to ask ourselves, Can we afford not to? One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing you've always been doing in the hope that you're going to get a different result. If we do the same thing we've always done we're going to get the same thing we've always gotten. And ten years from now we will no longer be able to sustain worshiping communities in our smaller county seat and rural towns and villages. We will have retreated to what passes for urban areas in our part of Illinois: maybe one viable congregation in each of Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, possibly two in the Metro East area, and maybe Decatur. Everything else will have gone by the wayside, and we will be under increasing pressure to divide up and attach our various parts to neighboring dioceses. I don't believe this is the future God calls us to, but it's a future that may quite plausibly be thrust upon us.
Now, this feels like a good place to pivot once again, this time to some observations about the proposed budget, on which we will vote tomorrow. Another thing I've taken perverse pride in when talking with other bishops, after the small size of our staff, has been the lack of conflict and anxiety that typically surrounds our whole budget process, including and especially when it comes up at synod. It seems to me that we've grown very comfortable with our process because we've developed a system that insulates all but one person from it. Jim Donkin has done a tremendous job for a number of years, but because of his position in the system, not through anyone's intention, I'm sure, he's been the one to absorb and contain the agony of the difficult information that we should all be engaging. Every year—indeed, every quarter at the Diocesan Council meeting—the bottom line seems rosy—we start out with a deficit, but somehow we magically end up in the black, building up a reserve for bailing out a mission congregation from the clutches of a commercial loan or repaving the parking lot at the diocesan center ... or something. But that's only because we keep cutting expenses, either by eliminating ministries—for instance, as recently as four years ago there were two full-time clergy positions in the Hale Deanery subsidized by the diocese, and now there aren't—or by perpetually budgeting line items that we don't actually spend. But the fact is, while we ask for a small incremental increase in giving from the parishes each year, and we all sit here and approve that budget, sometimes without one word of debate, our total regular income has eroded steadily, every year, for several years. We ask for an increase, we approve a budget that assumes an increase, but we don't actually get the increase. Now, there isn't time to go into the mechanics at the moment, but let me just say that our system is a little difficult to understand, a little bit idiosyncratic, and I'm hoping that the work currently being done by the special task force on constitution and canons, will help us find a way to something simpler and clearer. But in the meantime, we're in a pattern that is not very long sustainable, and even less so if we are talking about adding a diocesan staff position.
So let me just make sure that everyone here realizes that, when you vote for a budget, you are committing yourself to doing all in your power to see that your church actually gives the amount represented in the income detail. There's a page that lists every congregation, and its share of what the proposed budget would be. If you vote for the budget, you are committing your parish to that specific number. Now, if we are going to add a Canon for Mission Development, your figure not only needs to be paid, but, collectively, we need to raise an extra $65,000, which is a 12% increase over what the diocese is receiving from the parishes and missions in 2014. As I think you understand by now, I sincerely hope we pass a budget that funds the new position, but please hear me on this: If you are not committed in heart, mind, and soul to your share of the cost, you cannot in good conscience vote for the budget as proposed, without amending it in some way. Maybe this is not the Lord's timing for us to move ahead in the way I've described. If the position doesn't get funded, I'm not going to go away and sulk, or feel rejected. I’ve got thicker skin than that! But we need to either swallow the horse pill just in increased giving, or find another way of getting there. Some of the seeds of potential "other ways" have been broadcast in the past few weeks, so when the budget comes up on tomorrow's agenda, I expect to see a line at the microphone. OK?
I want to conclude on a less somber note, and simply say that, despite the challenges, this is still a great deal of fun for me. I enjoy a great deal being the Bishop of Springfield. But I am all too aware that our time together is not infinitely long, and there is so much I would like us to accomplish. I've shared with some of you that my personal goal for the remainder of my episcopate, which is a maximum of now less than nine years, is to leave behind, under the care of the 12th Bishop of Springfield, a church that knows how to thrive in a post-Christian society. That is indeed an audacious goal, and it is every day on my mind and heart and in my prayers. For now, I will only re-emphasize what I wrote in the fall issue of the Current: Let's learn to travel light. Let's lay aside everything that hinders us, and joyfully take up the labor that is set before us. The fields are ripe. The harvest is plentiful. It's time we bring in the sheaves.
Thank-you … so much.
St Michael's, O'Fallon--John 17:6a, 15-23
As you may have discerned, the built-in special intention of this liturgy is the unity of the Church. The collect and the readings come from the section of the Prayer Book lectionary that bears the label “Various Occasions”—or, in the terminology of liturgy geeks such as your bishop, “votive Masses.” Of course, it’s a little strange that we should have to pray for the unity of the Church, since the Church is none other than the risen, glorified, and quite intact Body of Christ. At one level, unity is a default feature of the Church; the Church is “hard wired” to be one. Of course, on another level, that isn’t how we experience it. We are, as the familiar hymn texts says, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” So we experience what I learned in my freshman year college psychology course to call “cognitive dissonance.” We affirm something as being real that we actually experience as being a fantasy.
In response to such cognitive dissonance, Christians across the whole range of flavors and brand names have silently, without explicit intention, colluded with one another in the institutionalization of our disunity, the normalization of schism. We have invented nostrums like “God gave us the diversity of denominations so that every kind of person would have a church they can feel at home in.” For a moment or two, that feels kind of right, but it doesn’t stand up well. It’s probably the classic example of trying to make silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The fact is, our divisions are a scandal, a really bad scandal, a scandal that we should never allow ourselves to become used to or comfortable with. Our external divisions are a scandal, the divisions that result in different churches on all four corners of many of our downtown streets. But our internal divisions—the fights we carry on amongst ourselves, often quite publicly—are even more of a scandal.
And why are these things scandalous? In his long prayer that has become known as our Lord’s “high priestly” prayer, which was offered on the night before his suffering and death, and from which the gospel reading for this Mass was taken, Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, and mentions a very specific purpose for his intention: “That the world may know that you have sent me.”
That the world may know.
We have been drilling down for the last three years in the diocese on what it means to embrace a mission strategy that is robust enough to build a church that can thrive in a post-Christian society, and can somehow survive the demographic tidal wave that is crashing down on us. As we pursue that mission, there will certainly be those who brush us aside because they hear our talk of reconciliation in Christ as hypocritical when we can’t even be reconciled with one another. The four churches on the four downtown corners, to say nothing of Christians trying to settle their differences in secular courts, will stand as a powerful witness to these people of the falsehood and ridiculousness of the gospel we proclaim. They will not hear it as good news, but as laughable news. So it is good that we pray through offering this Mass for the Unity of the Church
So, just what are we asking for? Let me call your attention to three specific short petitions that we will offer a few minutes from now in the Eucharistic Prayer. Giving voice to the prayers of this whole assembly, I will stand at the altar and say, “Remember, Lord, your one holy catholic and apostolic church, redeemed by the blood of your Christ.” And here are the three petitions: “Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.”
Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.
Reveal its unity. What a wonderfully hopeful way of putting it! It’s realistic, in that it doesn’t seek to deny the reality of how our divisions appear to people. Yet, it also affirms the underlying unity that all the baptized have with one another because they have been made one in Christ through the waters of the font. It is not our unity that is an elusive mirage; it is our divisions! Our unity has been obscured, made invisible, by our own sinfulness. Now, this is certainly a problem, because what we can’t see, we are effectively cut off from, and people whom we are trying to evangelize are not going to understand these distinctions. But what we are praying for today is not to be made one, but that the wraps be taken off of the unity we already have, so our mission is not hindered. Indeed, Lord, reveal our unity.
Guard its faith. Now, our minds tend to jump right here—I know mine certainly does—our minds tend to jump when we hear “the faith” to the content of what we say we believe—creeds and other statements. We hear a lot about people, even church leaders, denying or disavowing or otherwise hedging on core Christian doctrines. This certainly happens, and I am certainly as concerned about it as anybody, and I am happy to ask God to guard the content of our faith. But I also want to be bold enough to ask for something more, something much deeper. If we interpret this petition in the liturgy without mentally adding a definite article, without adding “the,” we can begin to see “faith” not only as a noun—the faith—but as a verb, something we imply when we speak of having faith. To have faith is to be completely oriented in heart, mind, and will toward God and to what God calls us to, to make our identity as disciples of Jesus the central organizing principle of our lives. This, I want to suggest to you, is what we would do well to have in mind when we ask the Lord, speaking of the Church, to “guard its faith.” Having faith of this sort is precisely what enables us to see our underlying unity, and to actively cooperate with God in the lifting of the veil, so that unity can indeed be revealed.
Preserve it in peace. Once again, notice that, as with unity, what we’re asking for assumes that we actually already have it. In other places, we as God to give us peace, but here we’re asking, on behalf of the Church, that God preserve us in peace. Peace certainly includes the absence of conflict, and, to any extent that we are free of conflict, we certainly yearn to have that condition continue. But peace is more than simply the absence of conflict. Complacency is certainly pretty free of conflict, and that’s not something we want for the Church, is it? No, the peace of God that passes all understanding, the peace that will keep our hearts and minds in the love of God and the knowledge of his Son, is rooted in the amazing ubiquitous grace of God, God’s favorable disposition towards us that flows over and under and around us, the grace that carries us along through the stress of adversity, through the way of the cross, to a quality of life that transcends anything that assaults it, even death itself. When the people of God experience the peace of God, when we are preserved in that peace, our faith is guarded, and we are able to see the unity that is the fruit of our Great High Priest’s prayer on our behalf.
It has become our custom at synod—I guess when you do something a third or fourth time, it becomes “the way we’ve always done it”—it has become the custom at synod to express our faith not through the Nicene Creed, as we normally do on Sundays, but by reaffirming the vows and promises of our baptism. It is in baptism that our unity subsists, the unity that we long to have revealed more clearly. It is in baptism that we find our common faith, the faith of the apostles, saints, prophets, and martyrs, handed along to us through the ages. It is in the life of the Christ whom we “put on,” with whom we are “clothed,” in baptism that lies underneath the peace that we will share with one another before we set the table for our meal.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
On campus at Nashotah by 8am for Sung Mattins in St Mary's Chapel. Met until 3:45, breaking for lunch, with the members of the Living Church Foundation (the larger entity from which members of the Board of Directors, which met yesterday, at chosen). After spending the morning on some rather technical work amending bylaws, the afternoon focused on the future, with some invigorating brainstorming about possible future directions for this venerable ministry that has served the church with dedication since 1878. At mealtimes, breaks, and walking between events, I had several informal sidebar conversations with other TLC foundation members, Nashotah faculty and administrators, and students. I pulled the YFNBmobile onto Mission Road right before 4pm, and into my garage in Springfield at 8:45. Grateful for traveling mercies.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
- Breakfast at the Hilton Garden, since they make great omelets, and breakfast is included in my room rate.
- Morning Prayer and Mass in the chapel at Nashotah House.
- Living Church board meeting from about 9:30 until 3:00, with a break for lunch.
- Informal conversations with board members and staff; minimal processing of email.
- Evensong at 4:30.
- Drinks and appetizers for Living Church Foundation members, senior staff, and Nashotah faculty and spouses at the deanery,.
- Dunner for the same group, in Adams Hall.
- Informal presentation by two faculty members on the history of Nashotah's involvement in the Catholic revival of Anglicanism in America.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Board members and senior staff from Forward Movement gathered for Eucharist at 9am, and moved from there into the remaining items on our agenda. After a break for lunch (during which I took a brief walk and discovered the Rockwellesque square and surrounding neighborhood of the Village of Glendale), we concluded a little but past 3pm. I was on the road about 15 minutes later. After regaining the hour I lost to a time zone Sunday night, I arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn in Oconomowoc, WI around 9:30, some 450 miles through parts of four states. Ready now for the Living Church Foundation tomorrow and Thursday at Nashotah House.
Monday, October 6, 2014
With a late arrival last night in Shelbyville, IN, eating a timezone in the process, and only an 80 miles drive to my destination, allowed myself a leisurely morning and wasn't on the road until 10:30. Arrived (through pretty heavy rain the whole way) at the Transfiguration Spirituality Center in the quiet Cincinnati suburb of Glendale right in time for the noon start to the fall meeting of the Forward Movement board of directors. Spent the afternoon and early evening on our agenda, with a break of an hour or so before dinner. We will continue through most of the day tomorrow.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
On the road with Brenda at 7:45, aiming to be in Carlinville in plenty of time for the regular 9:15 liturgy at St Paul's. It was a happy time. Beyond confirming one and receiving one, it was the debut Sunday for a fine new organist, who did a superb job. Rested up and attended to a few small household projects in the afternoon. Took a walk on a beautiful fall day. Packed at got back on the road a 7, headed for Shelbyville, Indiana, where I am bedding down for the night ahead of a drive to Cincinnati tomorrow for the fall meeting of the Forward Movement board.
St Paul's, Carlinville--Matthew 21:33-43, Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14
What feelings does the word “warning” evoke for you? I would bet they are not positive. You get home, and there’s a notice from the electric company on your doorknob: “Warning! Your service will be shut off in three days unless you pay your bill.” You’re likely to feel some combination of fear and anger. You look in the mailbox, and there’s a letter from your doctor’s office: “Warning! Your test results put you at risk of a stroke.” Again, the stomach acid starts flowing. But suppose you then walk into the house, and your spouse says, “Honey, I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is, I got pulled over for speeding. The good news is, the officer let me off with just a warning!” Now that’s when the word “warning” brings a sigh of relief, right?
Actually, a warning is a good thing, when we look at it in the light of cool rationality. I recently attended a conference that featured a bunch of, shall we say, less-than-optimum statistics about that state of Episcopal Church congregations. We were constantly reminded, “Facts are your friends.” A warning, even a friendly warning, may not fix everything. It may be too little too late—but even then, it helps.
Proclaiming “Warning! Warning” is part of the essential job description of a prophet. In Old Testament times, succeeding generations of prophets issued warnings to the nation of Israel: “Change your ways, or there will be dire consequences. It’s not yet too late to save yourself.” John the Baptist, who was, in a way, the last of the Old Testament prophets, had a similar message, “Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s not yet too late to escape the wrath of Divine Judgment.” As John faded from the scene and Jesus moved onto center stage, Jesus announced the same sort of warning.
We sometimes lose sight of this early aspect of Jesus’ ministry. It was before his ministry of teaching and healing and calling disciples got really under way. It was well before his passion and death and resurrection. And it was even further in advance of St Paul’s developed articulation of the nature of God’s love and grace. It is understandably easy for us to get caught up in these grand themes of the Gospel—the Paschal Mystery, as it is known. It is easy for us to lose ourselves in gratitude for the fact that God’s grace is lavish and free and completely unmerited on our part. God first loved us. Grace, I very firmly believe, is the “shaping power” that forms our lives as Christians.
Yet, there’s a fine line between gratitude and lassitude, between thankfulness and presumptuousness. God’s grace is so abundant that it becomes easy for us to view it as just part of the natural environment. It’s all around us, like the air we breathe and the water we drink. Whenever something is plentiful, we tend to eventually take it for granted. A hundred years ago, having electric lights, or a telephone, or, in some places, indoor plumbing, were considered luxuries for the affluent. Now, they are basic standards, and the lack of any of them is part of the definition of poverty. Thirty years ago, a microwave was a luxury; I can remember when we got our first one as a gift from Brenda’s parents—it was a big deal. A few years after that we got our first VCR—remember those?—and very much considered it a splurge, a luxury. Ten years ago, a smart phone was a luxury, as was a computer with a broadband internet connection. Now, even many families on public assistance have these items in their possession, and they are more and more thought of—informally, at least—as a matter of basic entitlement. So, it is quite understandable that we should begin to perceive God’s grace in the same way, as a matter of right, as a matter of entitlement.
But, today, we are reminded that Jesus is still in the warning business. He is engaged in a long and sometimes tense dialogue with some leaders of the Jewish religious establishment. He tells a parable about a man who invested in an agricultural business—a vineyard, in this case. The investor took care of all the capital improvements and brought it up to operational status. Then he leased it out to a group that would run the place in return for a percentage of the profits. When it came time for him to collect his cut, the tenants conspired against him. They beat up his agents, and when he finally sent his own son, they killed him. And then, just after Jesus gets his audience to agree that the tenant farmers deserved to be done away with and replaced, he reveals that he’s talking about them—they are the tenant farmers. They have, in effect, conspired against God. They have mistreated a succession of God’s emissaries—the prophets—and they are on the verge of killing God’s own Son, Jesus himself. “Therefore I tell you,” Jesus says, "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it."
The Pharisees and others whom Jesus was addressing in this parable were soaked to the marrow of their bones in the notion of Israel’s privileged status as God’s chosen people. Sometimes this took the form of smug superiority over “those Gentiles.” On occasion, perhaps, they remembered Israel’s vocation to be “a light to the nations.” But in either case, their favored standing in God’s sight was just a given, part of the environment, not to be even questioned. What Jesus was telling them in the parable, however, was that they had abused God’s grace. They had made it proprietary, a matter of right, something they owned, rather than a matter of God’s continuing free choice. They had developed a presumptuous attitude, taking God’s favor for granted.
And who is the “other nation” to which God’s habitual grace was to be transferred as a result of the presumptuousness of the Jewish leaders? Well, folks, according to the Christian scheme of things, that would be us—the Church, the “Christian tribe.” The Church has seen herself as the “New Israel,” the succeeding heir of the promises made under the Old Covenant with the Jewish nation. But before we go patting ourselves on the back, we need to look at this situation with very clear and sober eyes. Our parable reminds us that to be in a favored position is also to be in a risky position. There are consequences to abusing God’s grace.
If the Christian community is the “new nation” to which privileged status in the Kingdom of God has been transferred, either in whole or in part, then we are also susceptible to the same sort of smug superiority, the same sort of proprietary attitude, that led to the Jewish leaders being deprived of their privileged status. And if this is the case, then we need to hear today’s parable as aimed, not at those Jewish leaders in the first century, but at us. And when I say “us,” I don’t just mean Christians in general, but North American and European Christians in particular. When Islam spread across North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean in the seventh century, Christianity’s center of gravity shifted northward and westward. By the end of the eleventh century, all of Europe, including Russia and Scandinavia, had been thoroughly evangelized. Church and society were one and the same. When the Americas were discovered by Europeans, there were missionaries almost literally in the wake of the explorers. The societies that took root in the New World, including that which eventually became the United State of America, were also thoroughly Christian. There was conflict between the various brand names, but no one challenged the Christian foundations of American society.
So what happened? Did we take our privileged status in society for granted? Did we act presumptuously and assume it as a matter of right, a matter of entitlement? Apparently, something along those lines took place, because we have lost that status. It’s already been several years now since the building at San Jose State University in California that used to be called the Chapel is no longer referred to by that name. The powers-that-be apparently felt that such a designation gave not only Christianity itself, but religion in general, an inappropriately privileged status in a state institution—an institution that is now presumed to be as thoroughly secular as our society’s institutions were once presumed to be Christian. Again, I ask, What happened? But I don’t have an answer to propose. I can only observe that if we look around our society, we see a Christian influence that is vanishing, and churches that are getting grayer and smaller.
Yet, when we look at Africa and Asia, we see a Christianity that is vital and growing and expanding so rapidly that their administrative infrastructure cannot keep up with their numerical growth. In some Anglican dioceses, for example, they cannot consecrate bishops fast enough. In Nigeria alone, there are over 20 million Anglicans—compare that to slightly less than two million Episcopalians in the U.S.—and even more Roman Catholics and assorted Protestants. Yet, Christianity isn’t even the majority religion in Nigeria, and there is fierce persecution of Christians by Muslim groups in many areas of the country, as know all to well with Boko Haram and the school girls they kidnapped. Similar stories could be told about other parts of Africa—I suspect that I have still confirmed more people in Tanzania, during only seven days last year, than I have in Illinois—and many regions of Asia, including officially atheistic China. Are these “third world” peoples the next “new nation” to whom the blessings of the Kingdom of God will be transferred, putting North Americans and Europeans in the position of the Jewish authorities in our Lord’s parable?
That is the sobering question before us today. But it’s not bad news. It’s still gospel—it’s still “good news,” because it comes to us as a warning. Warnings are rarely pleasant. They make us anxious. They make us fearful. They can make us angry. But they can also arouse us to action. If we are warned that our power is about to be cut off, we make some arrangement with the utility company. If we are warned that our health is in danger, we make changes to our diet and exercise routines. If we are warned that we are driving over the speed limit, we are motivated to make some changes in our habitual driving patterns. Warnings are good things. Thank God for warnings. Thank God for Jesus’ warning to us in this parable. God’s grace is abundant, but it can be abused by taking it for granted. Are we abusing God’s grace? What do we need to change? We can’t say we weren’t warned. Amen.