Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Sunday

Up at "zero-dark-thirty" to be out the door and on the road in time to arrive at St Andrew's, Edwardsville for their regular 8am Eucharist. Presided and preached then and at 10 (where we confirmed three and received two) and taught the adult forum between services. Exceptionally carnivore-friendly repast after the principal Mass. St Andrew's has a fine liturgical and musical tradition that I always find uplifting, and they seem to be thriving under the leadership and pastoral care of their newly-permanent priest-in-charge, Fr Ralph McMichael. It was nearly 70 degrees when we got in the YFMBmobile to head home around 1pm. It was 37 when we got there. It was nice while it lasted.

Sermon for Advent Sunday

St Andrew's, Edwardsville--Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:1-9

"Don't go away—we'll be right back after these messages." How many thousands of times have those of us who are a certain age heard that request for us not to get up and change the channel? (Of course, that was in the days before channel surfing with the remote.) We're being told to wait right where we are, the interruption is only temporary. General MacArthur, as he was retreating from the Philippines just ahead of the Japanese onslaught, solemnly promised, "I shall return,” and asked the Filipinos to wait for him. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the Terminator movies immortalized the phrase "I'll be back", as he vowed to return to the scene of a temporary defeat. And how many times have we told a child or a friend in a public place, "Wait for me here, I'll be right back."

As he neared the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus communicated this same message to his friends and followers in progressively clearer tones. He would be handed over to the authorities and put to death, but would rise from the dead in three days. And after his death and resurrection, he prepared his closest disciples for the fact that he would be taken from them once again, this time to return to the right hand of the Father, from whence he came. And when that moment arrived, and the dazed disciples stared at the cloud that had removed him from their sight, an angel promised that "This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come ... in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." And in that experience, when they saw Jesus ascend into his glory and heard the angel's voice promising that he would return as he had departed, the disciples very likely reflected on his words to them which are recorded for us in the thirteenth chapter of Mark's gospel. "Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. ... What I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake."

In other words, the disciples felt themselves to be entering the intermission in a two-act drama. Jesus's incarnation, his life and ministry, his dying and rising, and his ascension into heaven constituted the first act. A lot was accomplished, but there remained a good deal yet to be done. After the intermission, during Act Two, he will come back and finish what he started. All wrongs will be righted, all suffering relieved, and every tear wiped away. The good guys in the white hats will carry the day and the bad guys in the black hats be given their just desserts before the closing credits roll and the show comes to an end. What a glorious event to look forward to! What a wonderful future lay in store for these disciples and those who would hear their message!

But the intermission began to go on for a long while. The generation that had heard the promise of Jesus's return and the admonition to stay awake began to die off.
Many perished as martyrs, to be sure, but many others, like St John on the Isle of Patmos, simply died of old age. He said he'd be back, and we believed him, but we never thought it would take this long! And since then, the followers of Jesus have been making adjustments in their expectations. The second generation of Christians, around the turn of the second century, had the biggest adjustment to make, because their parents had led them to count on Jesus' return in their lifetime. But every generation of Christians since then has also tended to see itself in apocalyptic terms, as living in the end times. Yet, as the long-anticipated event didn't come, and didn't come, it was supposed that maybe this isn't the intermission in a two-act play, after all. Maybe we're in Act Two—maybe Act Two is this time between Christ's first coming as a powerless infant and his second coming in power and great glory. There, that helps a great deal to make sense of things. But, still, as second acts go, this is an awfully long one. And it's getting harder and harder to wait patiently. Many times it has seemed to the church as if she lives in the Land of Narnia as described by C. S. Lewis: "Always winter, but never Christmas."

Always winter but never Christmas. Just ask any child you know, or the child that still lives within you, and you will be reminded that this is an extremely challenging state of affairs with which to live. And amid the stress of such a challenge there are many temptations. One such temptation is to try and hurry things along. In every age, there have been those among the Christian community who have become obsessed with the second coming of Christ. They have looked at whole books of the Bible as elaborate cryptographic codes, which, if correctly solved, would yield the answer to the question we're all asking, "How long, O Lord, how long?" If we have our eyes and ears open, we know only too well that this temptation is alive and well in our own time. When I was a parish priest, and contemplated doing a serious adult Bible study series, I knew that doing one on the Book of Revelation would attract the largest number of class members! The ultimate extreme, of course, is represented by those groups who are so sure they've figured it out right that they sell their homes and quit their jobs and climb the nearest mountain to wait for the final moment. We had a rather high profile example of this just two or three years ago, didn’t we? So far, every one has had to admit that they figured it wrong. Not an encouraging track record for deciphering the code. And one wonders, when the Master of the house does finally return, will he be pleased with those servants who have been so pre-occupied with the welcome they plan to give him that they abandon their usual duties?

The opposite temptation is, perhaps, even more dangerous. This is the temptation to say, "We've been duped, taken for a ride! He's not coming back, or he would have done so by now. We're just wasting time and energy with this vigilant waiting business. I'm going to forget it all and just try to find what joy there is in life as I know it." A variation of this—something a little nobler, perhaps—is to say, “He’s not coming back, so our job is to build the kind of world that he would make happen if her were.” Two thousand years, after all, is a long time for a bride to wait at the altar before coming to the conclusion that maybe her fiancĂ©’s car didn't break down and he didn't really misplace his bow tie, and that he really is not going to show at all. When the Master of the house returns, these are the ones who will have already skipped out, nowhere to be found.

For many years, I had a plaque on the wall beside my desk which was given to me by a parishioner as a memento of a moment we shared in a Bible study. It simply said, "I'm God and you're not." I'm God and you're not. From one perspective, such a statement, projected onto the lips of God, might seem off-puttingly overbearing, unnecessarily arrogant. But as it has resonated in my own heart several years, it has been a source of comfort. The undertone that I hear in it is, "I'm God, so you don't have to be—just drop that particular load right where you are. I'm up here in the hot air balloon; you're down on the ground. I can see what's over the next hill and around the next bend; you can't. I can see that storm brewing out over the water; you can't. I can see everything that's going on and how it fits together; you can barely see past the end of your own nose on a clear day. And, besides, a thousand years for you is like the blink of an eye for me. And besides that, I do have a record of eventually keeping my promises: Abraham did become the father of a great nation, the people of Israel did get out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, the kings of Israel and Judah who followed me faithfully did have successful careers, and the Messiah that the prophets foretold did eventually arrive. And you don't even have any idea of all the times my grace has kept you away from disaster without your knowledge. So my advice to you is, lighten up and go with the flow."

My friends, Jesus, in his love, warns us to stay awake and alert, to be faithfully vigilant for his return. Faithful vigilance certainly doesn't mean abandoning hope. But neither does it mean being fixated on the day and hour of his coming in power and glory. Faithful vigilance simply means doing what we're supposed to do and being what we're supposed to be while we wait. Francis of Assisi was once asked—according to legend, at any rate—Francis was once asked while he was hoeing weeds in his garden, what he would do if he knew that the Lord's return would occur in the next few minutes. Francis' answer was that he would just keep hoeing and try to finish the row. At that moment, hoeing was what Francis was supposed to be doing, and if the Lord Jesus were to return that day, how else could Francis possibly hope to be found?

For today's Christians, faithful vigilance means continuing to come together in worship each Lord's Day, continuing to celebrate the mystery of his dying and rising in word and in sacrament, being faithful to one another in Christian community, ministering according to the gifts we have been given, within the Body of Christ and in the word, being responsible parents and children and friends and citizens, loving God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. If the Lord returns today, he will want to find us faithful in each of these tasks. And if he finds us faithful in these ways, he will also find us contented and at peace. Living and moving within the will of God is a source of great peace, peace that passes understanding, peace that comes from knowing that not only are we not God, we are not even executives in the kingdom! The Kingdom of God has no management personnel, only labor. We are but shift workers, looking forward to the paycheck that we've been promised, knowing that the boss will be back any time now, and that he wants to find us at work when he returns.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday

  • Finished a "non-statement" about the situation in Ferguson, MO, and posted it both on my own blog and on the diocesan website.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to celebrate the preach the midday liturgy.
  • Got the ball rolling, by means of a fairly substantive email, on planning the liturgy for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate on January 2.
  • Brought my homily for Advent II (St Andrew's, Carbondale) to the condition of "rough draft."
  • Presided and preached at the 12:15 Mass, using the ferial propers appointed for the day. I was particularly drawn to a line from Revelation 15: "... for with them [the last of the seven plagues] the wrath of God is finished." I went off in homiletical reverie on how what humans tend to experience and name as the wrath of God may actually be the love of God in disguise--that is, God preserving human freedom (a central aspect of the imago dei) by allowing us to experience the natural consequences of our own behavior.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Hand-wrote notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with nodal events in December.
  • Took a brisk walk across the parking lot to Spring Street, then down to South Grand, back over to Second and up to the office. Got snowed on.
  • Prepared a summary document for the chair of the Commission on Ministry with information about everyone at any stage of the ordination process, from about-to-be-ordained to the early stages of discernment. I can see a couple of lengthy COM meetings on the road ahead.
  • Evening Prayer fell through the cracks today. Happens sometimes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost on a range of currently active concerns.
  • Participated via conference call in the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Trustees. The call also included our investment advisor, who was calling in from home, as his office is in Clayton, MO, which was not exactly stable and safe this morning.
  • Met with two representatives from an Ohio-based church-related capital fundraising firm, at their behest. We do have some capital needs, both at a diocesan level and in some of the parishes, and their approach has a bit of a wrinkle that potentially removes the element of tension between diocese and parish whenever the subject of a capital campaign comes up. So ... we'll see what develops.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took care of three small bits of administrivia by email.
  • Met with a representative of the vendor of our new telephone equipment for a scheduled tutorial on the bluetooth headset that will allow me to participate in conference calls while pacing the room ... and even switch them over to my mobile phone if I need to leave the office. Having the technology and being able to use it are two different things. We'll see how good a student I am. In my defense, I will say that I was able to successfully transfer an incoming call to the Archdeacon this morning. 
  • Revised, refined, and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily--Advent Sunday at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Took a brisk walk down Second Street to South Grand, and then back up the other side. Brrr.
  • Via email, engaged the senior warden of one of our parishes concerning the details of a search process.
  • Made lodging arrangements in Sarasota for a special winter meeting of the Nashotah House board of trustees. Why go to Florida for a meeting? Have you been to Wisconsin in February?
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Lord's Day (Christ the King)

Up and out of our Danville hotel room in time to preside and preach at the regular 9am Mass at Holy Trinity. where the liturgy is on Anglo-Catholic steroids, but at the same time is utterly unfussy and unpretentious. It is suffused with joy. Next Sunday, Fr Geoffrey Scanlon marks 27 years as priest and pastor in that community. The fruit of his ministry is amply evident.

After the usual post-liturgical hearty repast, we headed west for an appointment in Champaign with a potential aspirant to ordained ministry. There seems to be an abundance of such recently. It was a little past 3:30 when we pulled into our Springfield driveway.

Sermon for Christ the King (Proper 29)

Holy Trinity, Danville--Matthew 25:31-46, Ezekiel 34:11-17, I Corinthians 15:20-28

The end of the Christian liturgical year certainly comes at an odd time, doesn't it? One would think that it might have the good sense to coincide with the secular calendar, but, no, here we are bringing our year to a conclusion five or six weeks early. One might think that, given the pattern of our society's ebb and flow of activity, that it might coincide with what we refer to more and more as the "program year", but it doesn't work that way either. So here we are, at the end of that long season of green vestments, about ready to jump into Advent. Under our previous Prayer Book, a few of you may remember, the year just kind of ground to a halt without any particular fanfare, and this day was simply called the "Sunday next before Advent." Now, in an ecumenical spirit, we and the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans, along with any Protestants who wish to join us, celebrate this Sunday as a feast of Christ the King.

I, for one, am glad for this newer way of doing things. It gives us a chance to dress up the liturgy a bit—although, of course, Holy Trinity hardly needs such an excuse! Keeping the feast of Christ the King lifts our hearts and imaginations to that time outside of time when we will gather around the heavenly throne and sing the praises of the Lamb who died to ransom for God a kingdom of priests from every family, language, people, and nation. We look forward to that great day when Christ the King will present us to God the Father and say, "Mission accomplished." We look forward to that great day when we are given title to our final inheritance in company with the saints in light.

An on that day, on the great day, we will know that Christ the King, Christ our king, is and has ever been a Shepherd-King. As the Lord God assures us this morning through the prophet Ezekiel:
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek our my sheep; ... I shall feed them with good pasture; ... they shall lie down in good grazing land, ... I myself will be the shepherd of the sheep, ... I will seek the lost and will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the week, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. 
Christ the King is Christ our Good Shepherd, who tends us and feeds us and patiently and gently cares for us and meets our needs. And even if, in this present life, we see Christ our Shepherd-King only dimly, we will on that day, on that great day, see him clearly, and hear him call us each by name. In our worship this morning, we receive but a glimpse, a shadow of a glimpse, of the glory in which we will share on that day, on that great day.

Now what I'd like to do at this moment is say "Amen" and start in on the creed. But that wouldn't be quite honest, would it? There's a fly in the ointment, and it won't just go away if we ignore it. The fly in the ointment is this vision of sheep and goats that we find in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew's gospel. Christ the King, Christ the shepherd-king, is on that day, on that great day, separating the sheep from the goats. There are some among the great throngs on that day, on that great day, who when they see Christ enthroned as king also want to worship him and to proclaim him as Lord. But their songs of praise will be slightly off key, and sound a bit thin and hollow. When these, shall we say, "goats" are shown their final destiny, they will not know Christ the King who is also a Shepherd, but Christ the King who is also a Judge. They will know a Christ the King who calls them to account for their behavior toward him while history was still in progress, while time still marched on, while one day still followed another, before the curtain had been let down onto the stage, bringing the performance to an end. They will know a Christ the King who will ratify a judgment that they had already pronounced upon themselves by the decisions they made during their lives.

And we find—at least, I find—all of this a bit disturbing, because we wonder, just who are these goats, anyway? And how can I be sure that I am not one of them? This is one of those times when it helps to be a scholar. Not that I am, but I've got a bunch of books by people who are. If we read this passage of scripture about the sheep and the goats in isolation, most of us are going to get from it that the goats are people who just aren't nice. They're cruel or indifferent to human need and suffering. They turn their backs on the hungry and the homeless and the lonely and the inadequately clothed. If, on the other hand, we perform works of charity and mercy and humanitarianism, it is as though we're doing so to Christ himself, and we thereby increase our chances of being numbered among the sheep.

What the scholars tell us, however, what the experts say, is that this is not the proper interpretation of this apocalyptic vision. (I'm not trying to demean charitable and humanitarian activity, but simply saying that the biblical basis for such work is elsewhere than in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew.) The naked and the hungry and the imprisoned in this passage are not merely the naked and the hungry and the imprisoned of the world. Rather, they are symbols for the followers of Christ who are in the world bearing witness to his life and death and resurrection and, most of all, perhaps, his Lordship. The "least of these my brethren" are those who proclaim Christ as King, and are persecuted for their faith. The sheep are those who respond to their message and enthrone Christ as Lord of their lives too. The goats are those who turn a deaf ear to their message, perhaps giving lip service to the Kingship of Christ, but never surrendering to him the allegiance of their hearts and their wills. The goats are those who offer Christ their allegiance, who proclaim Jesus as Lord, only after it has become impossible to do otherwise, when it is obvious that it would be ridiculous to do otherwise. But on the day, on that great day, it will be too late. The habits of a lifetime cannot be undone in the twinkling of an eye. When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over, as C. S. Lewis famously reminds us. There's no more time to change the script, no more time to learn any more lines, no more time to block any more action. Christ the King is Christ the Judge.

The good news today is that Christ the King wants to number us among the sheep on that day, on that great day. And as long as one minute still follows another, as long as night still turns into the morning, there is still time to listen to the Shepherd's voice, to respond to the message of the least of his brethren who invite us to name him and follow him as Lord. Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Is he the Lord of your whole life? Is he the Lord of your time? Your money? Your possessions? Your affections? Your relationships? Your family? Your marriage? Your career? Your body? He wants it all, you know! It won't do to hold back. Today, in this liturgy, as we join with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven to sing the praises of Christ the King, I invite you, if you've never done so, to consciously and with full intention, consecrate your life to the Lordship of Christ the King. Now, I might remind you that if you've been baptized or confirmed at a knowledgeable age, or if you've ever had a child baptized or been a godparent, then you've already done what I'm talking about, whether you've realized it or not. So, either for the first time, or as a reaffirmation, I invite you to name Christ not only as the King, but as your King, not only as the Lord, but as your Lord. Tell him so silently in your prayers, even where you sit. And in a few minutes, when you reach your hands across the rail to receive the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation, you will know that you are being cared for and looked after by Christ the Shepherd-King. And on that day, on that great day, he will say to you: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday (C.S. Lewis)

Exercise and household puttering until 4:30, when we set sail eastward in the YFNBmobile. Met up in Urbana with Fr Geoffrey Scanlon and two parishioners from Holy Trinity, Danville for Mexican food at Huaraches Moroleon (an eatery worthwhile checking out). I then followed Fr Scanlon to his home for a "serious" discussion, before retrieving Brenda from a friend's house and continuing on to Danville, where we are now settled in at the Hampton Inn ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Holy Trinity.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Did some online Christmas shopping (gifts for staff).
  • Took a phone call from one of our clergy wanting to give positive feedback and express gratitude for yesterday's Clergy Day.
  • Spend the rest of the morning cranking out a first draft of a policy on diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Springfield. Sent it along for comment to ... our deacons, naturally.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Gave official notice to the Nashotah House trustees of the details for our special winter meeting in early February.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed my physical inbox.
  • In my ongoing quest to jump start our companion relationship with the Diocese of Peru, I attempted to reach Bishop Godfrey by phone, and got as far as a lovely conversation with his wife. Progress.
  • Responded quickly by email to a Province V-related issue.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on today's daily office reading from Malachi--a rather well-known passage, thanks to Handel's Messiah.
  • Brief devotions in the (cold) cathedral. Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday (St Edmund)

From 9:30 until 4:00, today was dedicated to a scheduled gathering of the clergy of the diocese. We had an excellent turnout of around 30, and we seriously engaged the subject of space, place, and architecture as the context for liturgy. My hope in this was that we would continue to engage liturgy--specifically, in this case, the places where liturgy happens--with informed intentionality and not merely on auto-pilot. Various presenters elucidated material from three challenging books, and discussion was lively. We concluded our time in the nave of St Paul's Cathedral as a sort of lab/practicum in "reading" liturgical space. We also had a very animated discussion of the sorts of gatherings we would like to have going forward. A good day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday (St Elizabeth of Hungary)

  • Usual task planning over breakfast at home.
  • Prepared to celebrate and preach for the regular cathedral midday Mass. This involved moving some furniture, as we needed to be ready for the possibility of unusual numbers (see below), we Fr Tucker and prepared the portable chancel altar for use.
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Worked on my homily for Advent Sunday (St Andrew's, Edwardsville), taking it from developed outline to rough draft form.
  • Attended the regular monthly meeting of clergy attached to the cathedral.
  • Commemorated the lesser feast of St Elizabeth of Hungary at Mass, which ended up being celebrated in the chapel after all, though we did have three out-of-town visitors. Apparently the Equal Rights Amendment (yes, the one that seemed to have died quietly back in the '70s) is being debated in the Illinois legislature, and one of its leading advocates is a devout Episcopalian. She wanted to attend the liturgy, and two of her colleagues, in from the Twin Cities to lobby the lawmakers, accompanied her.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Attended to some logistical details pertaining to a special winter meeting of the Nashotah House trustees (in Sarasota, of course; who wants to go to Wisconsin in February?!).
  • Took care of another small Nashotah matter via email.
  • Made air travel arrangements for a an overnight trip to Dallas in January to confer on mission strategy with the church planting officer and their evangelism officer.
  • Attended to a pastoral/administrative matter for one of our clergy.
  • Got in a vigorous 2,000 steps right around sunset on a very chilly afternoon.
  • Responded to an email from one of our priests on--you guessed it--a pastoral/administrative matter. (Sorry I have to be vague about a lot of things, for the sake of confidentiality.)
  • Did some last minute personal prep for tomorrow's Clergy Day.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • Went down to Dynasty on South Grand for some black pepper prawns, and brought them back to the office to consume.
  • Attended the regular November meeting of the Cathedral Chapter. Hoe around 9:20.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday (St Hilda of Whitby)

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home; MP in the car on the way in.
  • I was under a time bind because of a scheduled 9am training session for the new telephone sets that were being delivered and installed today. But the deliverer and installer was himself running behind, so I could have read the morning office properly rather than hurriedly. Oh, well.
  • When we finally did have our tutorial, I was encouraged that I may actually master the technique of transferring an incoming call to somebody else in the office--either to them directly or to their voicemail. That has heretofore been my principal failing as an office telephone user. The new system is simpler, it seems.
  • We have a clergy day on Thursday, so it fell to me to rearrange the table and chairs in the round room of the round building in an appropriate manner. You may wonder why I don't have my minions do such things, but the twofold truth is that 1) I'm a little short in the minion department, and 2) I wouldn't have know how to instruct minions to arrange things. It took actually moving stuff around to get a sense of how it should all go.
  • Took care of an administrative issue pertaining to domain name registration, which is something that is pretty opaque to me.
  • Took care of a Nashotah House-related administrative chore (an online vote of the trustees on an administration proposal).
  • Brief administrative attention to a coming workshop for clergy and wardens (and other lay leaders)--January 10, 2015. Stay tuned.
  • Fleshed out, refined, and printed a working script of my homily for this Sunday (Holy Trinity, Danville).
  • Just as I was trying to leave for lunch, I took a phone call from someone seeking material assistance (he thought he was calling an actual church, not a diocesan office, and asked to speak with "a pastor"). I did this sort of thing all the time while in parish work, but it's not so much part of my life now. Anyway, my antennae are finely-tuned to detect fishy stories, and this one had quite an aroma (eventually getting to seeking cab fare to Taylorville so he could ultimately get to Pana). Mysteriously, he was suddenly gone. The call was somehow dropped. We didn't hear back.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Five successive substantive email interactions: three regarding aspirancy to ordination, one the finances of a parish, and one a potpourri of pastoral and administrative issues.
  • Kept a scheduled video conversation (via Google+) with a candidate for an impending parish vacancy.
  • Responded via email to some points raised by the Bishop of Tabora in a message from yesterday.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Lord's Day (XXIV Pentecost)

Up and out at 7:45, headed eastward toward Mattoon through a light dusting of early-season snow. Presided, preached, and confirmed three teens and one young adult at Trinity Church, which is exuding a spirit of renewed vitality under the pastoral care and leadership of Fr Jeff Kozuszek. The age range of those present was robustly encouraging. After a sumptuous post-liturgical repast, Brenda and I headed north on I-57 to Champaign, where will killed some time at the mall, racking up steps on the pedometer, downing some green tea, and rooting around cyberspace on our iPhones. When the time was right, we headed down to the Chapel of St John the Divine for a 4pm organ recital by Mark Dirksen. The instrument there is the renowned work of the renowned builder John-Paul Buzzard, who is a parishioner there. Mark Dirksen is married to Beth Maynard, the rector of Emmanuel parish across town, and is the son of the late great organist at Washington National Cathedral, Richard Wayne Dirksen. It was a delightful program of works not often heard in recital.

Sermon for Proper 28

Trinity, Mattoon--Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29,  I Thessalonians 5:1-10

As a culture evolves over time, certain words and certain concepts go in and out of fashion. Right now in our society, the notion of “accountability” seems to be enjoying its day in the sun. It’s currently popular in the political realm, as we speak of holding elected leaders and government officials and teachers accountable for the results of their efforts. We hear about it in the world of business, where everyone from executives to middle managers to production and sales employees are held accountable for their contribution to the bottom line. And we talk about accountability in the church, for both clergy and laity, and on several different dimensions—from finances to spiritual growth to moral behavior to relations within larger church structures. Yet, the kind of accountability that really nags at us, and may even cause us to lose sleep from time to time, is not any of these. Rather, it’s the contemplation of final accountability on what St Paul writing to the Thessalonians calls the “day of the Lord.” I’m talking about Judgment Day, Doomsday, the end of the world, the curtain coming down on the stage for the last time, the final exam for which our entire life is a marathon study session.

We’re now into the tail end of the Christian year—a sort of “pre-Advent” season—in which final accountability looms large as one of the themes that emerges in our corporate worship. In the tradition of Christian art and literature, the themes of this season have inspired more than their share of paintings and poems. I recall, when I was in college, being fascinated—and in a macabre way, captivated—by the epic canvasses of the Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch, who depicted some rather gruesome images of the torment of the damned, as well as the bliss of the redeemed. Of course, generations of literature students have been made to plow through the poetic stanzas of the Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, writing about a century and half before Bosch was painting. Because of art and literature like theirs, and taking certain biblical images out of context, and with the contribution of untold numbers of “St Peter at Heaven’s Gate” jokes, the popular imagination of our culture has conditioned us to think of the “final accountability” question in terms of in or out, up or down, saved or damned. What we overlook is the equally scriptural notion that even those who are in, those who get the thumbs-up sign, those who are saved, will still have to give an account of the way they have lived their lives. There are no passes, no freebies. We would all do well to contemplate with some sobriety the prospect of standing before the Creator of the universe and hearing, “So…tell me about yourself,” knowing full well that the One doing the asking has access to a record of everything we’ve ever said, done, or thought. Now that’s accountability!

So, what will that accounting consist of? Will we be asked to demonstrate that we’ve had more good thoughts and said more good things and done more good deeds than we’ve had nasty thoughts and said and done mean things? I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I don’t think God keeps score in that particular way. Will we be asked to show that we have faithfully kept any eight out of the Ten Commandments? Well…no. All ten are pretty important; we don’t get a free pass on any two of our choice, as appealing as that might sound. Perhaps the Lord will have access to our church attendance records, and will be looking to see whether we’ve been in church 52 Sundays a year … or 40…or 32…or 26…or as the canon says, “unless for good cause prevented.” Now, here, I have to tell you, I’m really tempted to say, “Yeah, this is the one! This is the one we’re going to get judged on.” But, alas, I would be telling a lie, and would therefore have some extra “’splainin’” to do when my own turn comes.

What I can tell you with some confidence is this: The measure of our reward, one of the things—perhaps even the main thing—that the Judge of all will be looking at on “the day of the Lord” will, in fact, be the quality of our stewardship. Now, you may think it predictable that someone like me would say something like that at a time of year like this! And you would, in some measure, be absolutely right. But I didn’t just pull this out of thin air. I had a big assist from St Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, and from Jesus, who collaborate today to give us what we know as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man is going to do some traveling and will not be able to manage his assets. So he divides them between some members of his staff, and trusts that they will invest them wisely. He makes them stewards. He’s not giving them the funds—one receives the sum of five “talents,” the second two talents, and the third one talent—he’s not giving the funds to them outright; he will hold each of them accountable for their performance as stewards, for their exercise of the trust that has been placed in them. When he returns from his travels some time later, the first two servants have doubled their investment. They have done extraordinarily well. The third, however, just gives back the original sum, and says, in effect, “I didn’t want to risk losing your capital, boss, because I knew it would make you angry, so I hid it in a mattress. Here it is, just like you originally gave it to me.” This third servant, of course, is severely reprimanded. He has been a poor steward, and he is judged unworthy of trust. He is held accountable by having the single talent that had been entrusted to him taken away.

This is the quintessential parable of stewardship, and in this season when we emphasize financial stewardship in particular, we do well to take a close look at all the ways the principle of stewardship affects our lives as Christians, and thereby prepare ourselves for being held accountable on Judgment Day. There are three classic categories of stewardship. You know them: “time, talent, and treasure.” So let’s look at each one very briefly.

TIME—Every human being has the same gift of 24 hours in a day. None get any more and none get any less. The difference between us is what we choose to do with that time. How do we use our time to develop our relationship with God in Christ? Do we “make” time for prayer? I’ll tell you something: I do. I have to. I put it in my calendar, like any other appointment. Once when I was in parish ministry, one of my personal scheduled prayer times accidentally got put in the published parish calendar! Do we make time for the study of scripture and other spiritual reading? Once again, this is something I have to actually schedule. Do we make time for service to others? Several years ago, I made it part of my spiritual Rule of Life to make a regular donation at the Blood Bank. People need donated blood, and I am blessed to be able to do it without any ill effects. By telling you this, I am today holding myself accountable to this element of my Rule. It’s a little thing, and it “costs” time that feels quite valuable. Yet, doing it is part of my stewardship of the 24 hours in each day that have been entrusted to me. (I have to say that, sadly, my travel to Africa at this time last year has prevented me from donating since then, but I hope to get back on track.) So, how does your use of time help advance the Kingdom of God? I call your attention especially to the canonical definition of a Communicant in Good Standing—It’s a person who is not only faithful in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day “unless for good cause prevented,” but also is faithful in “working, praying, and giving, for the spread of the Kingdom of God.”

TALENT—The very word comes from today’s parable, where it was a sum of money, and which the English language has co-opted into referring to any innate—that is, presumptively God-given—any inborn abilities that we might have. Do you know what your talents are? Most of the time, these are the same as the “spiritual gifts” we were given in baptism, but do you know what those are? If you know what your gifts and talents are, how are you making them available to God and his people for the spread of the Kingdom of God? How are you “investing”—that is, developing, cultivating, and exercising—how are you investing the “capital” that has been entrusted to you? Is God getting a return on his investment in you, or have you buried your “talent” in a field or hidden it in a mattress? Have you listened for God’s call on your life? Have you discerned that call? Have you followed that call?

TREASURE—You knew I wouldn’t forget this one! “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” A busy father took his young son to McDonald’s for lunch one Saturday in order to spend some quality time. While they were eating and visiting, he casually reached over and took one of his son’s french fries. The boy put up a tremendous fuss, so that one would have thought his father was trying to chop off his right arm. His father’s first impulse was to be angry. “Don’t you know I can afford to buy you french fries until they’re coming out of your ears? And you still begrudge me one little french fry, which I paid for in the first place?” Fortunately, he calmed down, and was able to speak to his son about the virtues of sharing. But what a wonderful illustration of the principles of financial stewardship this incident is. We can understand the father in this story as God, and ourselves as the son, and the french fries in front of us as all our material possessions and our wealth. It all comes from God. It’s all God’s. Every last french fry. God paid for all of it. And he’s capable of replacing it many times over, until we have so much we wouldn’t know what to do with it. Knowing that, why would we want to begrudge God the 10% that he asks of us? Tithing, you know, is a good deal, a great deal! We get to keep 90% of God’s money for our own needs, for our own happiness. Where else can you find a stewardship deal that sweet? But yet, as one of my own bishops in prior years was fond of saying, if you use 91%, you’re robbing God. Robbing God. And the Day of the Lord draws near? Will you have some “accounting” to do?

The sobering news is: We will have to render an account. Judgment Day awaits us. The good news is: We have everything we need—we have the time, we have the talent, and we have the treasure—to render a faith-full accounting. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday

  • Got to the Cathedral/Roundhouse complex around 9:30 there. Found several members of Diocesan Council already there and milling about.
  • Presided and preached the scheduled 10am Mass. The first reading in the weekday Eucharistic lectionary was from III John, which I do not believe ever comes up on a Sunday, so it was a new experience to preach from it.
  • Presided at the quarterly Diocesan Council meeting. It went most expeditiously, and we were wrapped up by a little past 11:30.
  • A number of impromptu sidebar conversations always happen on these occasions, and everyone wants to leverage the fact that they've already made a drive to Springfield.
  • Joined the scheduled meeting of the Standing Committee. Informally, we had some bishop-with-council-of-advice time. Formally, the committee approved the ordination of Cameron Nations to the (transitional) diaconate.
  • Conferred briefly with a member of the Standing Committee on a pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Drove down to Subway and grabbed a sandwich for lunch. Brought it back to the office to consume.
  • Kept a 1:30 appointment with an individual who is a potential discerner for the ordination process as a deacon.
  • After getting home, spent the remaining daylight hours on ... leaf abatement.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday (Consecration of Samuel Seabury)

  • Brief devotions in the cathedral (cold); Morning Prayer in the office (warm).
  • Back to the cold cathedral chancel to help with the physical setup for tomorrow's Diocesan Council Eucharist. Back to the office to prepare and print the lections and the Prayers of the People (and mentally conceive a homily).
  • Met with a lay person from one of our parishes over some pastoral concerns.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Stayed home to meet with a notary and sign some papers.
  • Took care of a couple of routine monthly personal management chores.
  • Attended to an emergent (though relatively minor) piece of Nashotah House business.
  • Drafted and sent a couple of emails to clergy outside the diocese regarding potential deployment here.
  • Made the decision that I will myself conduct the 2015 clergy pre-Lenten retreat, and made some broad stroke notes toward that end.
  • Took a phone call from a priest over a pastoral concern.
  • Friday prayer: Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. 
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thursday

  • Customary Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout.
  • Task planning for my shortened office work week at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the car en route to the office.
  • Unpacked the new scanner that arrived on my desk while I was gone. Unpacked it, installed the software, and gave it a trial run. It's much faster than the old one, and will make my life much easier.
  • Took a phone call from a lay Episcopalian from outside the diocese who was requesting use of the cathedral as a gathering place for prayer and then a launchpad for a procession to and demonstration in the state capitol in support of a particular political issue. I commended her for her strong and Christian faith-based dedication to her cause, but explained that I cannot lend the actual or apparent blessing of the diocese to a particular political cause, no matter how I might feel about it personally. She was quite understanding, and said they still might attend the midday Mass at the cathedral next Wednesday.
  • Attended to a couple of small (but not unimportant) administrative issues.
  • Met with Fr Mark Evans, Chair of the Department of Finance, to begin to chart a course toward the reorganization of diocesan financial administration as we approach the announced impending retirement of the Treasurer.
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Visited my dentist for about 90 minutes, during which time he removed an old filling and installed a temporary crown for use while the permanent one is being made.  Not my favorite thing to do, but it was survivable
  • In the interest of hitting my 10,000 step goal for the day, walked a personal bank deposit up to INB on Capitol Street. It was a brisk day, which necessitated a brisk walk.
  • Amplified, refined, and printed a homily for Proper 28, to be delivered this Sunday at Trinity, Mattoon.
  • Took the outline of a homily for Proper 29 (Holy Trinity, Danville) to the status of rough draft.
  • Devotions in the cathedral (where it was exceedingly cold); Evening Prayer in my (much warmer) office.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday (Charles Simeon)

This was a travel day, and everything went smoothly, for which I am most grateful. (Flying in and out of Springfield is a statistically significant risk, given the number of canceled flights.) Left the diocesan conference center in Salt Lake City at 9:30am local time, and pulled into my driveway around 6:30pm.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday (St Martin of Tours)

There are only six of us "tiny bishops" at this year's gathering--around half the usual number--but we had what we all consider an exceedingly productive day. First, it's just good to be with one another and "talk shop," wherever the conversation might lead. We have so to share and so much to learn by pooling our collective experience about trying to do a pretty unique and pretty demanding job, one in which we don't get to spend very much time with peers. But we also had a formal agenda of sorts, with the first part of the morning being devoted to TREC--the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, of which one among us is a member. Their report to next year's General Convention is still a work in progress, but certain features are beginning to emerge. I may have some substantive thoughts to share on my "real" blog in due course. At 10:30, we were joined by three representatives of the Church Pension Group, and pretty high-level ones at that: the CEO. the COO, and the Ecclesiastical Officer. We had a lively and robust discussion around a range of issues pertaining to CPG-related issues that affect smaller dioceses. It last through lunch and beyond. Very worthwhile interchange. After a break, we resumed with a discussion of issues that will come up at General Convention, especially the election of a new Presiding Bishop and the report on the special task force on the theology of marriage. On the latter, I think it's safe to say that the full range of available views was represented in the group. Dinner was at a very fine local downtown eatery, courtesy of our host, the Bishop of Utah.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday (St Leo of Rome)

Had my alarm set for 4:20am so as to be up and around and out in time for a 6am departure on United Airlines to Chicago. My scheduled three hour layover turned into four and half hours due to a mechanical issue and needing to swap out planes, so I got a lot a steps on pedometer walking concourses B and C. Arrived in Salt Lake City around 2pm local time, picked up my rental car (though I noticed too late that the light rail line now goes to the airport), and made my way downtown to the Episcopal Diocese of Utah's conference center. I'm here to meet with other bishops of "small" dioceses (it's a self-selecting group re what constitutes "small"). We're just three blocks away from the venue of next summer's General Convention.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Lord's Day (XXIII Pentecost)

I was supposed to visit St Christopher's, Rantoul last spring, but a pastoral emergency in another parish caused me to have to reschedule. So today was a makeup. This is a small Eucharistic Community (22 in the room, if I counted correctly), but they are multi-generational and full of love for one another. Fine pastoral leadership from Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley.

Sermon for Proper 27

St Christopher's, Rantoul--Matthew 25:1-13, Amos 5:18-24, I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Since the middle of this past summer, we’ve had a series of our Lord’s parables, as recorded in St Matthew’s gospel, for us to consider at each Sunday liturgy. As I look back on these Sunday gospels, what a spiritual feast they are! There is so much there to challenge us, and comfort us, and guide us, and enlarge us. Some of the parables are more immediately accessible than others. They relate to human experiences that are fairly universal across various times and cultures. Others require more “translation” for us to be able to understand them.

Today’s parable, the parable of the “Wise and Foolish Virgins,” is one of the latter. So, before we can apply this parable to our own lives, we need to understand what the story means in its own right, and what it meant in the culture of those who first heard it. Obviously, there’s a wedding involved, and these young ladies were what we might call bridesmaids. Their job is to wait with the bride at her home while her parents are away negotiating with the groom over the amount of her dowry. No one knows quite how long this will take—in fact, the longer it takes, the more flattering this is to the bride, so if the groom knows what’s good for him, he’s going to be gone awhile! When the grooms arrives—probably at a fairly late hour—the job of the bridesmaids is to go out and meet him with their torches burning, and then form a procession with the bride and the groom to the groom’s house, where the wedding ceremony will take place, followed by eating and drinking and dancing.

Well, in our parable, five of the ten bridesmaids brought extra oil for the torches, just in case the dowry negotiations went on longer than expected. Apparently, this is exactly what happened, because when the word came, “The groom is on his way!” the “foolish five” asked to borrow oil from the “wise five,” but their request was denied, so they went out to see what they could scrounge, missed the torchlight parade, and when they got to where the party was, nobody would let them in. They had been unprepared, and now they were suffering the consequences of their folly. It’s kind of a sad story, actually. Who wants to miss an important party?

So, to make the spiritual application of the parable now: Just as the bridesmaids awaited the arrival of the groom, but didn’t know precisely when he would get there, you and I await the arrival of Jesus on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment. One of the responsibilities of the bridesmaids was to be prepared for the coming of the groom by making sure they had enough oil for their torches. Obviously, then, one of our responsibilities—indeed, ultimately, our only responsibility—is to be prepared for the coming of Christ. But what does such preparedness look like? What, precisely, is the “oil” that we require to keep our “lamps burning?”

To answer this question, we need to look at the entirety of St Matthew’s gospel. In particular, we need to pay attention to the Sermon on the Mount, which occurs early in Jesus’ ministry, and therefore sets the tone and provides the context for interpreting other things he says. The Sermon on the Mount is very concrete. It deals with the way human beings behave in real relationships. It talks about hungering and thirsting and mourning and rejoicing. It talks about being picked on and being persecuted and being offended, and suggests that the proper response to those experiences includes patience, forgiveness, faithfulness, and reconciliation. The Sermon on the Mount talks about love and marriage and community; it commends values such as truthfulness and integrity and stewardship and faith. In short, the Sermon on the Mount is about the habits we form, not in extraordinary circumstances, not under exceptionally challenging conditions, but in ordinary day-to-day living. For each of us, being ready to meet Jesus on the Day of Judgment means becoming the kind of person that is described in the Sermon on the Mount. And while we’re on the subject, we may as well take a quick look at the Old Testament prophet Amos, who advises us that the way to be prepared for the presence of God is to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

So…how’s your oil supply? If you’re like me, you’re not quite sure. Speaking personally, I’m probably not as prepared as I would like to be to greet the arrival of the Bridegroom. But I hope I don’t give in to the temptation to minimize the importance of such preparation. Through a combination of fuzzy thinking and moral laziness, it’s all too easy to form misleading attitudes toward the coming of Christ.

One of these misleading attitudes is that preparation for the “coming of Christ” is a matter of a one-time decision, sort of like registering to vote. “My name’s on the rolls of the Book of Life—on June 4, 1982, or whenever, I invited Jesus into my heart, and that’s over and done with. I’m ready, Jesus; come and get me! Sure, I’ll be glad to be a bridesmaid. Where can I buy some oil?” Only, as we saw in the parable, five of the ten bridesmaids had said the same thing. Their names were on the wedding program, and everybody was expecting them. But when the crunch came, they weren’t ready, and they were excluded from the party. No, being prepared to greet the coming of Christ has to be more than a one-time decision, after which we can relax. To borrow a phrase from pastor and author Eugene Peterson, it’s a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Another misleading attitude is that preparation for the coming of Christ isn’t really all that crucial a matter, so it can be a tentative or half-hearted decision, not something you need to put your soul into—sort of like…well…telling someone who approaches you about serving on the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee, “Sure, you can put my name it,” but not taking your decision terribly seriously. “I’m not doing anything else that day, so…sure, I’ll be a bridesmaid. By the way, do I have to supply my own oil, or is it provided?” Well, even running for Vestry shouldn’t be a casual decision, but even less so should be our decision to follow Christ and to prepare ourselves for his coming. The fact is, this is the only decision. All others pale in significance next to whether we will be ready to greet the coming of Christ.

Yet another misleading attitude is that what really matters in preparing for the coming of Christ is simply that we make our best effort, give it our best shot. “You didn’t know you’d need this much oil, and you’ve run out? No big deal. You’re here, and it’s the thought that counts.” This is sometimes the advice that the church gives to people at this time of year, when the pledge cards have arrived in the mail. Strive to tithe, we say, but if you can’t, no big deal. Make your best effort; give it your best shot. This is a version of “Christian faith lite.” We may as well be praying to “Our Grandfather, who art in heaven…”. This attitude doesn’t do justice to the radical demands of the gospel. It may be more appealing in the short run, but in the long run it cheats us of experiencing the fullness of who we are called to be as children of the Most High God and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we entertain such attitudes—that preparing for the coming of Christ is a simple one-time decision, or that it isn’t all that important, or that it’s easy—when we entertain such misleading attitudes, the result is that, when the day arrives, we will be out-of-luck bridesmaids, unprepared to meet the coming of the groom. In such a state, that day is something to be anticipated with a measure of anxiety. Listen to how the prophet Amos describes it:
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light; as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
They don’t call it “Doomsday” for nothing, right?

But if we have prepared ourselves, if we have allowed ourselves to be shaped and formed to look like Jesus, if we have made the little decisions and formed the little habits that configure our souls to the values of the Sermon on the Mount, if we have let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, we can look forward to Doomsday—believe it or not—with some joyful anticipation. We can put ourselves in the position of the new Christians in Thessalonica, to whom St Paul wrote these words of comfort:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
St Paul then says, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” So…let’s do it. Let us comfort one another with these words. Get ready. Check your oil supply. The Bridegroom may be just around the corner.

Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday

Usual Saturday AM lazing around, then weights and treadmill, consumed most of my morning. Most of the afternoon was consumed recording two catechetical videos ("makeups" from the Lenten series at St John's, Decatur some months ago at which there were "technical difficulties")--about 90 minutes in total. This proved to be more cumbersome than I ever imagined (dying batteries, inexplicably full disks, changing light conditions), but I believe it was concluded successfully. Now on to the editing, in due course.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday

Met the Archdeacon at the office at 9am, and headed east and south toward Effingham. Publicly pronounced a sentence of secularization (yes, that's the formal language) upon St Laurence's Church shortly after 11, with the four people who were members until the bitter end present. The liturgy, while somber and brief, is actually quite pastorally sensitive. Then, the Archdeacon and I, after lunch in a taqueria, met the buyer of the property at an escrow office and closed the deal. Came away with a large check made out to "Daniel H. Martins." Could have thrown quite a party, but I think we'll put it toward eventually replanting in Effingham. Back at the office around 3:30. There were enough emails waiting for me to consume my attention for the rest of the afternoon. Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thursday

  • Quality AM time with the Bowflex and treadmill.
  • Morning Prayer at home in my study.
  • Kept a 9:30 phone appointment in the same place. This had to do with the spiritual vitality component of our mission strategy.
  • In the office: Did a routine semi-annual review and evaluation of the diocesan mission strategy implementation. Made some notes and plotted some tasks as a result.
  • Located some material for the history-of-the-diocese portion of the website. Set in motion a process that will lead to more being posted in that area.
  • Dashed off an email to a couple of people outside the diocese whose brains I hope to pick on the subjects of evangelism and church planting.
  • Lunch at home--leftover pot roast.
  • Spoke by phone with one of our seminarians concerning some ordination and deployment issues.
  • Cleared by physical inbox, with the help of my optical scanner.
  • Took a brisk walk up to the other side end of the state capitol on Second Street, and back down on Spring Street. With weather like today's, any walk was bound to be brisk.
  • With the scanner still warm, I took the opportunity to digitize some other hard-copy materials. This is part of an ongoing project to go paperless. Won't ever achieve that goal, but that doesn't mean I can't make progress towards it.
  • Drafted an article on the "Five Tool Priest" that's been knocking around my head for a few months. The Living Church gets first crack. If they don't want it, I'll blog it.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Initiated a series of six emails or voicemails on subjects ranging from Nashotah House to clergy deployment to mission strategy to technical support.
  • Developed, refined, and printed a working text for this Sunday's homily, at St Christopher's in Rantoul.
  • Took a brisk walk around the neighborhood, on what may be the last "nice" day of the season.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass (ferial propers for Wednesday in the week of Proper 26).
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • To my consternation, I devoted the great bulk of my afternoon to a very long tech support phone call. Due to some carelessness on my part about three weeks ago, some very annoying malware had found its way onto my laptop computer. Such items are pernicious, and enjoy playing hide-and-seek. Happily, I believe that we successfully located and deleted the offending files. But the effort ate up time.
  • Discussed an ordination process technical issue with the Archdeacon.
  • Took another brisk walk.
  • Fulfilled all online righteousness in connection with health insurance open enrollment.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday

  • Weekly and daily task planning, and some email processing, at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Met with Walt Born, a postulant for Holy Orders in the diocese.
  • Walked up to Illinois National Bank to make a deposit. (Yes, I could have driven, but I wanted to wrack up steps on my pedometer.)
  • Reworked and freshened the text of a sermon from many years ago for use on Proper 27 (November 16 at Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Drafted and sent a couple of emails: one pertaining to our mission strategy, one pertaining to a companion diocese relationship.
  • Lunch of pulled pork from HyVee, eaten at home. Afterward, I stopped by the neighborhood UCC church to cast my vote on election day.
  • Drafted and sent two more emails: one pertaining to my Nashotah House board responsibilities and another to one of our priests concerning a visitation date.
  • Edited and posted Prayers of the People forms for Year B, Advent through Epiphany. This took a while.
  • Took a phone call from a lay leader in one of our parishes concerning a vexing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Did some strategizing and plotted some tasks relative to a clergy deployment issue.
  • Confirmed arrangements for a personal retreat I have planned for next month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • While watching election returns in the evenings (mostly with the sound muted), I cranked out a blog post on something I've already spoken about a good but within the diocese.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Lord's Day: Solemnity of All Saints

Well, it had to happen eventually, I suppose. A communication snafu meant I was 30 minutes late rather than my intended 30 minutes early for the All Saints celebration at All Saints Church in Morton--their 50th anniversary, no less, with their former priest Fr Robert Lewis and his family in the congregation, and Fr Brian Kellington and Deacon Laurie Kellington up front. By phone, I asked them to start without me 15 minutes late. As I walked into the sacristy from the outside, I heard the concluding response to the gospel, so I just emerged in my street clothes and preached my sermon. I made myself "decently habited" during the creed and presided from then on. After a wonderful potluck, Fr Brian and I drove up to Peoria to bring the sacrament to Bishop Donald Parsons, who is laid up with a broken ankle. What a joyful privilege and a wonderful end to my visit.

Sermon for All Saints

All Saint, Morton--Revelation 7:2-17

As some of you know, I grew up right here in the great state of Illinois, the "land of Lincoln.” As we know, particularly those who live in Springfield, so I’ve learned, Abraham Lincoln is more than just a license-plate slogan in Illinois. I still vividly remember my eighth-grade class field trip, where we took the train, the old Illinois Central line, from Chicago, down to Springfield and by bus up to New Salem Village, where Lincoln spent some of his boyhood years, and then to back to the capitol building, and then to the house Lincoln lived in, and then finally to his tomb. It was moving indeed to gaze at that mass of marble that contains the bones of a man of such mythic greatness as Abraham Lincoln.

But such experiences, moving as they may be, are ultimately unsatisfying. We can look at a grave, or walk through a town or a house — we can read and study about a famous person — but the sad fact is, the great ones at whose shrines we pay our respects are dead and gone! They no longer inhabit the same universe we inhabit, we can have no direct contact with them. The heroes of history are men and women who are beyond our reach, and we know it, and we think it's too bad that it has to be that way. This is why science-fiction writers make money writing about time travel.
So when we think of "the saints,” we tend to store them on the same shelf along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and Geronimo and Julius Caesar and all the other great men and women of history—famous dead people. People we can only experience from a distance, only admire from afar.

The distance that separates us from the saints is not only one of time, however. It is also one of kind. Even if they were still warm and breathing, the saints, so we assume, are different from you and me. They are, after all, saints: people of exemplary moral virtue, heroic self-sacrifice, and, in many cases, courage even in the face of martyrdom. Most of us do not ascribe such qualities to ourselves, or to the people that we have contact with on a regular basis. And, of course, the main thing is still that ... the saints are dead. They're not people of the 21st century. We can respect and admire them, but that's the limit of our relationship, there's nothing beyond that.

And so, when we consider the idea of, and our experience of, Christian community, what have we got? What have we got? We've got something rather one-dimensional, haven't we? A relatively few of us have had to chance to experience Christian community on a very large scale—national or international. Through a meeting or a conference or a rally or some other program, or just from having lived in lots of places, we have felt a bond with other members of the body of Christ in other parts of the country or in other countries of the world. A few more of us have felt such a bond at a diocesan or a regional level—maybe at a convention or synod or a workshop of some sort. For the vast majority of Christians, however, the experience of Christian community is limited to, and identified with, their experience of the parish of which they are a member. Those with whom we really feel the bond of common faith and common walk with Christ in the fellowship of the Church, are those who are, or have recently been, members of our own parish. Not only is time a very real barrier to our experience of Christian community, but space is very much a barrier as well. Could it be that this is all we mean when we profess our belief in the "communion of saints"? Does the "communion of saints" refer to nothing larger, nothing greater, nothing more transcendent than a parish potluck?

Which might lead us to ask, What actually is it that unites us as a congregation, as a parish community? Is it our taste in art or literature or music or clothing or hairstyle or cars? Obviously not! Is it our level of income or education or our political preferences? Not that either! Maybe it's our theology or our churchmanship, but I really doubt it. What is it, then, that we have in common, that forms each of you into this community of All Saints parish? It's right over there, [point to font] the water of baptism. Whether we had water poured over us from an eight-sided font or were plunged underneath a river, whether we were a week old or a month old or ten years old or fifty years old, whether we wore the heirloom gown that our grandparents were baptized in, or hip boots, or nothing at all—what unites us is the fundamental experience of having been buried and raised with Christ in the water of baptism. This is what forms our community, this is what creates the bond between us. And it creates a bond not only between this community at All Saints in Morton, but between you all and those who have already worshiped down in Pekin this morning at St Paul's, or over in Bloomington at St Matthew’s, or at St John’s in Decatur, or way down in Cairo at the Church of the Redeemer.

But this water doesn't just create a bond between members of the Diocese of Springfield, but also with the Navajos on the reservation in Fort Defiance, Arizona and the wealthy elite in midtown Manhattan at St Thomas’, Fifth Avenue. But the bond doesn't even stop there. It also unites us with 80 million members of the Anglican communion of churches, from the tiny diocese of Tohoku in northern Japan to any number of dioceses in Africa, many of which baptize more new Christian in a month than the entire Episcopal Church does in a decade.

But the bond doesn't even stop there, because it also unites us with 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians and 800 million Romans Catholics, as well as those in all the Protestant churches the world over. Add up those numbers and you get nearly one-third of the world's population that you and I are connected with through this water.

But no—the bond does not even stop there. The bond established by God in baptism not only transcends space—making us one family with other Christians the world over—but it transcends time as well, joining us in one communion and fellowship, one family, with men and women and children throughout history who have borne on their foreheads the invisible sign of the cross that marks them as Christ's own forever. We are all of us also of one family with all the saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs, because we were born again in the same water which also gave them new birth.

I have an uncle, on my mother's side of the family, who, in his late middle-age years, took an intense interest in family history, in digging up information about the Hayden family of Jackson County, Arkansas. He managed to lay his hands on some old photos, some of which go back nearly a century, and with his optical scanner and laser printer, reproduced them and sent them to all the members of the family, scattered throughout the country. I'm sure you can imagine how it felt for me to see, for the first time, a picture of my great-great grandparents and their children gathered for a family portrait in 1894, or of my grandmother when she was a young woman just out of high school. Through these portraits, I had a sense of deep intuitive connectedness with these people, most of whom I never met, a feeling of connectedness that was very different from staring at a marble vault containing the bones of Abraham Lincoln.

But, you know, we also have a family portrait of the communion of saints, the fellowship of those reborn in baptism. It's a word picture, but if we use our imaginations, the optical scanners and laser printers of our minds, we can transform this word picture into a gloriously vivid mental image. We find it in the Book of Revelation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne, and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to out God for ever and ever. Amen!"
What a picture! What a family portrait! But do you know what the most wonderful feature of this portrait is? We're all in it! Did you see yourself in it? You're there! Did you see me in it? I'm there too! Paul the Apostle and John the Evangelist are also in the picture. Our Lord's mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her mother, St Anne, and St Stephen and John the Baptist and James, our Lord's brother, and his friends, Mary and Martha—they're all in the picture. Some members of this family have already finished the race that you and I are still running, but they're not resting on their laurels, because they're standing in the bleachers cheering us on, providing an example for us, shouting encouragement, and, most importantly, praying for us. These are the ones we call saints. They're not just inspiring historical memories or collections of dried bones, but are fellow members of the family of God, the household of faith, born in the same baptismal water which gave us birth, and nourished at the same heavenly table at which we receive sustenance even this morning.

Are you feeling happy or victorious this morning? Peter and Paul cheer you on! Are you sick? James and John pray for you! Are you feeling discouraged? Martha and Mary and Margaret understand! Are you confused? Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas know how you feel! Wherever we are in our journey toward heaven, our daily faith-walk with Jesus, we are united with, bonded to, a fellowship of love and prayer for which the boundaries of space and time simply do not apply.

All saints, all holy people of God, pray for us!

Amen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday

Spent the productive components of my day ferrying items to the Chiara Center that were needed for those participating in the clergy spouse retreat (lunch, dessert, supplies for Mass). Then I met the group for dinner at a downtown Springfield restaurant (Julia's Kitchen). Also got some work done in our own kitchen, cleaning up from last night's Cajun dinner.