Tuesday, September 29, 2015
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Usual week-beginning informal debrief with the Archdeacon.
- Refined and printing the working text of my homily for this Sunday (All Saints, Morton).
- Handled a stack of relatively minor administrative issues. These things always end up more time-consuming than I anticipate.
- Took a phone call from one of our clergy.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Attended (by way of preparation) to a quite serious administrative/pastoral matter.
- Laid out the broad strokes of my address to next month's annual diocesan synod.
- Attended to some administrative details pertaining to getting ready for synod.
- Reviewed the second quarter financial reports from the mission congregations.
- Began the process of building by 2016 visitation calendar, which will be a challenge in view of the sabbatical I am planning.
- Swung by home to retrieve Brenda, and headed on down to St Thomas', Glen Carbon, where I took part in the Mass and potluck commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Fr Tony Clavier's ordination to the priesthood.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Out early--though perhaps not so bright--at 7am heading south. Arrived at St Michael's, O'Fallon a little after 8:30, ahead of their scheduled 9am liturgy. Celebrated, preached, confirmed, and presided at a baptism, as we observed the parish's feast of title, St Michael & All Angels. That was a pretty good day's work right there, but I then swung over to St Paul's in Alton, where I met briefly with whoever was still around after the post-liturgical coffee hour, and then for a while with at least a remnant of the search committee. Their transition has not been as smooth an timely as we all would have liked, so some extra pastoral attention was warranted. Home at about 2:30. Napped. Walked. Watched the Cubs beat the Pirates.
St Michael's, O'Fallon--Genesis 28:10-17
This passage from Genesis was chosen for the feast of St Michael and All Angels, no doubt, because of the reference to angels ascending and descending “Jacob’s ladder.” When we encounter angels in scripture, sometimes it’s a single angel who is responsible for delivering a message. (After all, the literal meaning of “angel” is “messenger.”) Gabriel comes to mind, as the one who delivered to the Blessed Virgin Mary the news of her vocation to be the theotokos, the God-bearer. Sometimes the angel we meet is one who acts boldly on behalf of the LORD. Here we think of Michael, who, as we read in Revelation, leads the hosts of heaven in doing battle with the minions of darkness. At other times, angels are depicted as simply worshiping and praising God, ascribing glory to God. This seems to be what the ascending and descending angels in Jacob’s dream are doing.
In each of these cases, however, the angels in question mediate the presence of God, or represent God in some way. Gabriel speaks on God’s behalf. Michael acts on God’s behalf. The angels on Jacob’s ladder point to God as the source of light and life. After encountering them, Jacob exclaims, “How awesome is this place!” This place. He associates the place with the glory that he encountered there.
You and I may not encounter angels on a regular basis (although, we perhaps do so without realizing it). But we do encounter the glory of God. We experience liminal moments, moments when the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven are separated only by an exquisitely thin tissue. I, for one, am pretty easy to impress, so a good, rollicking thunderstorm presents me with such a moment. Walking along the surf on an ocean beach does the same. Certain pieces of music and certain works of art make me feel as though I am touching the very face of God. Of course, at every celebration of the Eucharist, whether in an ancient Gothic cathedral or a humble country church, or at the bedside of a dying Christian, we consciously and formally invoke the presence of angels to join us in our inadequate offering of praise and thanksgiving: “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices and archangels and all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to the glory of your Name …”, as we then break into Holy, holy, holy …”
“How awesome is this place.” This place, literally, is a place where the Eucharist is regularly celebrated. This building, this room, housing this altar, the home of this people, is the venue of the assembly of those who regularly encounter the Living God here. How awesome is this place.
In this place, the people of God encounter the glory of God. This is our Bethel, which means simply “house of God,” and is the name Jacob gave to the place where he had his dream. This is where we have the opportunity to see the angels of God ascending and descending. In this place, the people of God receive the gifts of God. We are fed by the Word of God, both in the liturgy and in occasions outside the liturgy. We are fed in the Most Blessed Sacrament, as we together join in intimate Holy Communion with our risen Lord Jesus. In this place, we who are the branches of the vine, the members of the body, also share holy communion with one another, with those other members that are connected to the same head, with those other branches that are connected with the same root. This is where we form of the bonds of affection, the bonds of community. This is where we grow to trust one another, to love one another.
Here we encounter God’s glory. Here was receive God’s gifts. Here we become one people in Christ. Here we are made disciples. And from here we go forth as those who are sent, in apostolic mission. Indeed, how awesome is this place. This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven. As the baptized people of God, as disciples of the risen Jesus, you and I live within that heavenly gate. As we go out, we become that gate. We extend the bounds of the kingdom of heaven to the places we go and to the people we meet in those places. We become, if you will, angels—messengers of the good news of God in Christ. The awesomeness of this place can be experienced by those who never drive into this parking lot and never walk through these doors. Such awesomeness can be encountered through the ministry of those who regularly encounter God’s glory here and receive God’s gifts here and are made disciples here and are send forth in mission from here.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were told that they would be blessed with descendants, and that those descendants would be blessed by the care and guidance of a good and gracious God, but that the vocation of those descendants would be to channel blessing to all the peoples of the earth. You and I, my brothers and sisters, are those descendants—wild Gentile olive branches grafted onto the cultivated tree of Israel. We are blessed to be a blessing. In the words of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, used by our Eastern Orthodox cousins, “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith; we worship the undivided Trinity. who has saved us.”
How awesome is this place. This is the house of God. This is the gate of heaven. May Michael and all his angels guard and preserve us. Amen.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Out the driveway with Brenda at 8:15 headed for points south. Arrived at St Thomas' in Salem in plenty of time to prepare to preside and preach at the funeral for Father Tom Davis, who was raised up in that parish as what used to be called a "late vocation," and then served it for several years until advancing age and declining health made it prudent for him to step down about five years ago. It was a good crowd, and we gave him a proper sendoff. I mentioned in my homily that, if we do one thing right in the Episcopal Church, it's funerals. If you just follow the Prayer Book, it's hard to mess it up too much. After a reception in the parish hall of the nearby Methodist Church, we headed home, arriving around 4:00.
Friday, September 25, 2015
My day was given over to the Annual Assembly of the Illinois Conference of Churches, which is always held either in Bloomington or Champaign; this year was Bloomington's turn. I have a principled and heartfelt commitment to ecumenism. (How can a thoughtful Christian not have such a commitment?) But I have to say that these ICC events are very difficult for me. They are dominated by (formerly) mainstream liberal Protestant leaders, with a smattering of Roman Catholic hangers-on. The worship is lowest-common-denominator of the sort that, from my perspective, seems to characterize the dominant groups. (How much more interesting it would be if we could simply worship according to the tradition of whatever the host church is.) Sometimes the program is interesting, but not this year. It centered on the Parliament of World Religions, and interfaith work in general. It would be virtually impossible to understate the level of my interest in such things. My lack of interest begins with wondering whether there even is such a genre as "religion," continues with the reality that the "religious" groups most likely to cause trouble in the world are not present at the parliamentary table, and ends in a suspicion of the "we all worship the same God" narrative. Then we had a business meeting, which was ... well, a business meeting for an organization that is under-subscribed, systemically depressed, and under-funded. I was the first one out the door at 3pm. And yet, I will still send in a dues check, and devote another day of my life to the effort yet several times again. "That they may all be one" ... and all that.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared for the midday Mass.
- Debriefed a bit with the Archdeacon on a couple of issues.
- Got to work on the homily I've been asked to give at the requiem this Saturday for Fr Tom Davis. Normally, I follow a pretty careful and somewhat elaborate process when preparing a sermon. But when I have to preach at a funeral, time is usually of the essence. So it's a much more "trust the Holy Spirit right now" sort of endeavor. I offer an earnest prayer, take a deep breath, and start writing. I have no master plan about where I want to end up, no simple message statement to unpack. I just write one sentence, then another one, and so on. Somehow, it comes together. This consumed the entire morning--save for time spent on a couple of incoming calls: one from a priest-friend outside the diocese, the other from someone who is a "player" on the scene of Anglican ecclesial politics. But I ended up with a printed manuscript in a file folder in the back seat of my car. Done.
- Presided and preached at the midday cathedral Mass, using the propers for the ferial Wednesday in the week of Proper 20.
- Lunch was from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Checked in by phone with one of our key lay leaders who has had fragile health of late.
- Attended to some details pertaining to the early-November clergy conference.
- Took care of a routine Forward Movement board member chore.
- Checked in via email, in Spanish, with Bishop Alejandro Mesco of the emerging not-quite-diocese of Arequipa (Peru).
- Ran the accumulated contents of my physical inbox through my desktop scanner. I now have an empty inbox.
- Evening Prayer kind of fell by the wayside today, to my regret. It was after six, I an had to weigh the importance of saying my prayers against the importance of being a husband who arrives home for dinner at a reasonable hour.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
- Usual Tuesday AM routine: weekly task planning at home, MP and devotions in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with both the Treasurer and the Archdeacon on various concerns.
- Revised and repurposed the text of a sermon for Proper 22 for use at All Saints', Morton on October 4.
- Spoke by phone with Fr Wetmore at St Michael's, O'Fallon regarding some of the details of my visit there this Sunday.
- Took care of an administrative chore pertaining to the Putnam Trust, of which I am the principal trustee, and which benefits two of our parishes.
- Worked on the agenda for the upcoming clergy conference (November 3-4).
- Attended to some chores pertaining to the upcoming meeting of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees.
- Dealt with a small matter related to next months annual Synod.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home. Yes, hot mustard sauce is back.
- Composed and sent a substantive email to my Communion Partner bishop colleagues.
- Made lodging reservations for the late-October meeting of the Living Church Foundation in Houston.
- Spoke by phone with a priest (an old acquaintance) who does freelance clergy deployment consulting work. Had a couple of specific things to run by him.
- Wrestled with my notes on the readings for Proper 27 and emerged with a message statement for the sermon I expect to deliver at St Paul's, Carlinville on November 8.
- Reviewed and commented on the draft minutes of the August Diocesan Council meeting.
- Planned the hymns and service music for the Synod Mass.
- Read and replied to an Ember Day letter from one of our ordinands.
- Dashed off an email to the Chancellor seeking his counsel on an administrative matter with pastoral and canonical implications.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Up and out of our Champaign hotel room room in time to arrive at Emmanuel by 7:30. Presided and preached the regular 8am Low Mass. Met with the four confirmands--three youths and an adult--for some contingency catechesis, probably unnecessary since that had been well-prepared. Celebrated, preached, and confirmed at the 10:15 celebration. Particularly blessed by the choir's performance of one of my favorite anthems. Delightful outdoor lunch with the Rector and her husband, followed by a tour of the John Paul Buzzard organ factory right there in downtown Champaign. Home in time to watch the Cubs lose a close one to the Cardinals.
Emmanuel, Champaign--Mark 9:30-37, Wisdom 1:16-2:1, 12-22; James 3:16-4:6
Refrigerator door and bumper sticker slogans are usually good for a chuckle, and are often profound. One of my favorites is also ironic and insightful: “I’ve given up my search for truth, and am now looking for a good fantasy.”
Anyone who would make a remark like this is probably expressing sarcastic frustration with real life, and does not intend to be taken literally. It is, in the cold light of self-evident logic, ludicrous, to prefer any fantasy, no matter how appealing, to what is actually true.
Truth is, ultimately, inescapable. It is what we are, in the end, accountable to. But what is ludicrous to our minds is still often the choice of our passions. Human beings do sometimes prefer an appealing fiction over an unpleasant truth.
The evil men that we hear about today in the Book of Wisdom do not want to face their own wickedness, and they shamelessly plot the murder of the righteous man, whose goodness is a constant reminder to them of their lack of it. By doing away with him, they could continue to indulge their fantasy, and not come to terms with the truth.
The disciples of Jesus also fit into this category. As St Mark’s gospel relates it to us, Jesus point-blank tells his disciples that he will be arrested and tried and put to death, and rise from the dead three days later. One would think that a prediction so startling would freeze them in their tracks, and that after recovering their composure they would bombard him with questions about when and how and where and why this would all take place. But Mark tells us that they decided instead to just keep quiet about it. They were more comfortable with a fiction of their own making—“He can’t really be serious; we didn’t really hear what we think we heard”—they were more comfortable with such denials than with the horrifying truth of what Jesus had told them.
But Jesus, who is the incarnation of the God of truth, and who is himself the truth, insisted to his followers in Mark’s gospel that they know him as no Christ but a crucified Christ.
This is what lies behind all the instances in the gospel of Mark where Jesus commands people who come to faith in him as the son of God to keep quiet about it. Mark does not allow anyone in his gospel to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Son of God until the Roman Centurion does so at the foot of the cross, on which Jesus has just died! So critical was the cross to Mark’s understanding of who Jesus is.
Some time ago I saw a news story about a very special summer camping program for children and youth. The setting—the buildings, the activities—were all standard summer camp fare. But the campers themselves were quite special. They were all young people who had been critically burned, and were substantially disfigured as a result. The aim of the camp was to help these kids along in the process of accepting themselves as they are, disfigured in ways that would make most of us want to avert our eyes. What fire has done to their appearance is an unpleasant truth, but it is the truth, and anyone whose life is touched by one of these kids can know them in no other way than as someone whose appearance has been radically altered by fire. You and I can know Christ only as one who has suffered and died on the cross. It is disturbing, but true, and to evade this truth is to indulge in fantasy, not reality.
It is, no doubt, easy for us, with our 20/20 hindsight, to be critical of those first-century followers of our Lord who were scandalized by the prospect of his being crucified, who did not want to recognize the utter centrality of the cross. But I’m afraid that they have company, and that company is us. Yes, twenty-first century Americans—even twenty-first century American Christians—want a Christ who is untainted by the shame and scandal of the cross. The cross stands as a horrifying sign of human sin and suffering, because all human sin and suffering was fastened on to it when Jesus died there. It is a manifestly unpleasant truth, a truth we would just as soon avoid if we could, a truth we would gladly trade for any number of more appealing fictions. We would trade it for the fiction of a religion that makes no demands: no demands on our time, no demands on our money, no demands on our affections, no demands on our minds. We would, in the proverbial “New York minute”, trade it for the fiction of a religion that does not presume to exercise any judgment on our behavior, or hold us accountable to anything other than our own whims and desires. We would enthusiastically trade it for the fiction of a religion that is really more magic and glitz than faith and holiness, a religion that promises to cure us from every disease and deliver us from every adversity simply upon demand. We want a God we can be proud of, not one who empties himself of his glory, takes the form of a servant, and dies the shameful death of a criminal.
And this is one instance where our theology has immediate practical implications for us.
Because of our reluctance to accept the scandal of the cross, because we prefer the fiction of a savior who protects us from suffering over the truth of a savior who makes us whole through suffering, we follow in the steps of Jesus’ disciples who got to wrangling with one another over who occupied what spot in the pecking order. And as St James tells us in his epistle, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” When we as a church, the Christian community, lose sight of the centrality of the cross—the cross of Christ, and the cross that he invites us to take up and follow him with—when we lose sight of the centrality of the cross, we descend into intellectual and moral and spiritual disorder. We find ourselves cultivating relationships with other people, not in joyful recognition of the image of God in that person, but in view of the ways he or she might benefit us. We find ourselves attaching strings to our generosity: I’ll give you this...or do that … if … We find ourselves attempting to control and manipulate members of our families, friends, co-workers, and, yes, even the church to which we belong!
The cross of Christ is a scandal, because it’s just . . . there. It’s true. We can ignore the truth, but we cannot for long evade it. It isn’t going anywhere. We can only go through it. And when, in faith, we do follow Jesus through the way of the cross, our experience is that of the peace that passes all understanding. We come into contact with what James calls “the wisdom from above”, which he describes as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” It is the ability to sleep at night with a clean heart and clear conscience, a sense of purpose and ultimate security, because we are grounded, not in any ephemerally appealing fantasy, but in the truth of the saving and redeeming cross of Jesus Christ. To him be all glory throughout all ages. Amen.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Up and out in time to retrieve Carrie Headington from the downtown Doubletree, stop by the office for a couple of items, then head down to the UIS campus, site of our Parish Mission Strategy workshop, for which Carrie was the leader. She is a dynamic witness to the gospel, with a heart overflowing with passion and love, and a fount of practical knowledge and experience. About seventy clergy and laity of the diocese were richly blessed by her ministry. After we wound up at 4:00, I drove her to the airport (where we were glad to learn the status of her flight was "on time"), stopped by home to pack for a night away, and departed with Brenda for points east--namely, Champaign-Urbana, where we were treated to a lovely dinner by Mike and Deacon Chris Hopkins of Emmanuel, which is where my gig is tomorrow.
Friday, September 18, 2015
- Task planning at home.
- Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Spoke by phone at some length with one of our rectors over some substantive issues.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
- Printed, copied, and collated the handout materials for tomorrow mission strategy workshop: Moving Into the Neighborhood, with Carrie Boren Headington.
- Refined and printed the working text of this Sunday's homily (Emmanuel, Champaign).
- Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
- Checked in by phone with the widow of one of our retired clergy who recently passed away.
- Attended to some lodging and transportation details pertaining to a trip to Denver next month to appear as a guest panelist at the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Priests.
- Worked on developing a homily for St Michael & All Angels, to be delivered on my visitation to St Michael's, O'Fallon on the 27th of this month.
- Met briefly with the cathedral Provost about an upcoming event.
- Left the office at 4:15 to retrieve Brenda, then head up to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport to meet Carrie Headington, the presenter for tomorrow's mission strategy workshop. We had reservations to take her to a nice dinner at one of Springfield's venerable eateries. Sadly, severe weather in northern Illinois interfered with our plans, as her flight from Chicago was boarded and pushed back, but ultimately canceled. After not being able to get to the Amtrak station in time to catch a train, and then not being able to find an available rental car, Carrie's Chicago cab driver offered to drive her to Springfield for an amount roughly equal to her airfare from Dallas, but it seemed the best thing to do. She texted me that her driver is a Muslim from Kyrgyzstan named Ulan. I'm afraid Ulan might have no idea what he's in for by volunteering to share an enclosed space for three-and-a-half hours with the ebullient missioner for evangelism of the Diocese of Dallas!
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Mostly a travel day, with many bits and pieces of work via email and text messaging scattered about in the cracks. Jackson (MS) to Atlanta and Atlanta to Bloomington (after an hour's delay) by air, Bloomington to Springfield by YFNBmobile. Back in the office tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Began the day still at the Gray Center in the Diocese of Mississippi (about an hour north of Jackson). After breakfast, we gathered for a final plenary and feedback. The general sense was that our time together helped clergy leaders with sharply divergent views on the presently controverted issues around sexuality and marriage grow in trust that they actually do share a common faith in a common Lord despite those differences. We then repaired to the chapel, where it was my privilege to preside at a votive Mass for the Unity of the Church.
After a walking tour of the adjacent summer camp facility, I was driven to the Jackson area for lunch, then to a downtown hotel for some downtime after checking in. At 5:15, I was picked up and driven to the nearby St Andrew's Cathedral, where I was the featured speaker at a public event which also happened to be the first of a Wednesday evening adult formation series for the cathedral parish. My remarks were (I hope, provocatively) titled, Please Don't Invite Your Friends to the Eucharist: Being Church in an Unchurchy World.
Yesterday's talk, Looking to the Rock From Which You Were Hewn, Soundings in Revelation & Authority, can be found here.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Writing from the Gray Center near Canton, Mississippi. I'm hear assisting Bishop Brian Seage with a retreat for some selected clergy leaders as they wrestle with divergent viewpoints in their ranks around the issues of sexuality and marriage. It's going well, and it's fun for me to strengthen old connections and establish new ones.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Up and out in time (but just barely) for the regular 7:30 early Mass at St John's Decatur. (Do the math--it made for a very early morning.) Presided and preached. Met with a potential diaconal ordinand in the early stages of the discernment process. Presided, preached, and confirmed at the 10:00 liturgy. Good attendance. Happy people. Great music. Lovely church. It was a blessing all around. Drove back to Springfield and retrieved Brenda from the Amtrak station (back from a visit to the offspring and offspring's offspring in Chicago).
St John's, Decatur--Mark 8:27-38
Every year, when Holy Week rolls around, one of the things I look forward to is the opportunity to sing some of my favorite hymn texts. Many of these are about 1,500 years old. They were written by a sixth century Latin poet named Venatius Honorius Fortunatus. All of you, I would imagine, have sung at least one of the three feast day versions of the hymn Hail thee, festival day—there’s one for Easter, you know, and also one for Ascension and one for Pentecost. That’s one of Venatius Honorius Fortunatus’ hymns. You may also know the Easter hymn Welcome, happy morning, also one of his. But the ones that really tug at my heartstrings are typically used either on Palm Sunday or Good Friday. They speak of the cross, and Jesus hanging on the cross, in ways that are self-evidently profound. These lines are from #162 in our hymnal:
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
How God the nations’ King should be,
For God is reigning from the tree.
O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear.
Gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of Glory now.
Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore
The wealth that did the world restore,
The price which none but he could pay
To spoil the spoiler of his prey.
And then there are these matchless verses from #166:
Faithful cross! Above all other,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory,
Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For a while the ancient rigor
That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of heavenly beauty
Gently on thine arms extend.
Having me just read these lines to you doesn’t really do them justice. Singing them, however, particularly singing them in their proper context, is another matter, and many times I, who am not by basic temperament a crier, have been moved to tears doing so. To sing about the cross, an instrument of shameful death, relaxing its natural rigor in order to “gently” bear the “King of heavenly beauty” evokes in me sighs too deep for words.
And if you need something more visual than poetry to really poke you where you can feel it, consider the really strange but rather common image of the Christus rex—Christ very much attached to a cross, but instead of wearing only a loincloth and suffering in agony, he’s wearing the eucharistic vestments of a priest, and, quite often, with a crown on his head, and not a crown of thorns, but a golden crown with jewels. This is actually a visible representation of what the Holy Week hymns of Venatius Honorius Fortunatus are talking about.
But there is here what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t add up. How can such poetry and such sculpture be taken seriously? We know what death on the cross is really like! It’s brutal, it’s ugly, it’s sweaty and bloody. There isn’t anything glorious about it, unless you’re a psychopath. Nobody reigns from the cross. Nobody who’s crucified is clothed with fine vestments, or crowned with gold. To speak of Christ reigning from the cross, to speak of the “sweetest wood” of the cross and the “sweetest iron” of the nails, defies rationality. Whether poetic or visual, it’s an image that makes no common sense; it’s absurd. It doesn’t represent anything that has ever happened or ever will happen.
That’s utterly true, of course, when we try to apprehend such things literally. Yet, from the proper perspective, from a position of faith, from a place of openness to mystical truth, nothing could possibly make more sense. Understood mystically, the Christus rex represents the highest possible order of truth. It’s all a matter of one’s position, one’s perspective.
As we join Jesus and his disciples this morning way up north in Caesarea Philippi, well outside their usual bailiwick of Galilee, and even further from Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter and his colleagues are having a similar problem with cognitive dissonance. They’ve been following Jesus around for a good while now, and they’ve seen his growing popularity and increasing public visibility. They have high aspirations for him, and for themselves when he comes into his Kingdom. They’re like volunteers who attach themselves to an obscure political candidate whom they hope has big upside potential, thinking that they might land prestigious jobs in the administration if the candidate is elected to office. Then Jesus throws a wet blanket on everything: He “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Peter is cheeky enough to rebuke Jesus—just the way a political operative might dress down a candidate who goes off script—Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus then rebukes Peter’s rebuke, using some rather emphatic language: “Get behind me, Satan!” Yeah, Jesus called Peter “Satan.” That had to sting. But it’s the “get behind me” part that we should be focusing on, because Jesus is inviting Peter to change positions, to adopt a different perspective, in order that he might see more clearly and understand more fully—just as when we set aside our literal eyes and begin to use our mystical eyes, the poetry of Venatius Honorius Fortunatus begins to not be irrational or absurd anymore, but to make perfect sense. And the position that Jesus is inviting Peter to assume is that of a disciple. A disciple follows the master, and is there lined up behind the master. “Get behind me, Peter, where a disciple belongs, and you will see that my talking of suffering and dying and rising again is not silly or distracting, but is a deeper truth than you have ever imagined.”
Some of you may know this already, but I have a reputation as a bit of a picky eater. I do eat many vegetables now, but all fruits and creamy sauces and most salads—all but one, actually—are still in my no-go zone. But, I’m a lot better than I used to be. There are many things that I now love, that for years I thought I didn’t like and wouldn’t eat. The right set of circumstances came together, and I was encouraged to try these things, and eventually developed a taste for them. Many of you, I’m sure, could say the same thing—if not about food, then a make of car, or a neighborhood, or a style of clothing, or something else. We announce our distaste for it, but somebody challenges us with, “Have you tried it?” Do you know it as an insider? And once we try it as an insider, it all comes together. It meets our needs. We like it.
The whole enterprise of Christian faith is just like that. As long as we have mental reservations, as long as we hang around edges, as an outsider looking in, there will be cognitive dissonance. The cross of Christ is abhorrent foolishness to us. Religious practice is meaningless ritual. Nothing makes us more uneasy than being asked to talk about spiritual matters, and nothing is more boring than public worship. Venatius Honorius Fortunatus is just a blithering idiot. A Christus rex is a pretty relic that means nothing. Jesus comes to us this morning and says, “Get behind me. Change your point of view. Get a new perspective. Line up behind me where a disciple belongs. Then it will all begin to make sense, and you’ll wonder why it took you so long.” My friends, we know the glorious mystery of God’s redeeming love when, and only when, we assume the position, and the vantage point, of a disciple.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Up and out in time to arrive in Bloomington by 9am to lead a working mini-retreat for the vestries of St Matthew's and Christ the King. We talked about mission in general, the mission of the diocese in particular, and had a blue sky conversation about the needs existing in the geographic parish of McLean County, the assets of the Eucharistic Communities of St Matthew's and Christ the King, and the obstacles and challenges standing in the way of effective mission. Time well spent.
In the afternoon, the focus was on giving an appropriate sendoff, by way of the the liturgy for the Burial of the Dead and the Holy Eucharist, to Walter Born, a recent seminary graduate whom we had "adopted" into the ordination process in this diocese until his cancer overwhelmed him. I got home around 5:00, pretty drained, if the truth be told.
Friday, September 11, 2015
- Up and out early enough to get Brenda to the Amtrak station to catch the 6:32am northbound train. She's in Chicago for some Nana-duty. Back home to shower, dress, and plan the day's work,
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Finally completed preparation of my two talks next week in Mississippi. They are entitled Looking to the Rock from Which You Were Hewn: Soundings in Revelation and Authority, and Please Don't Invite Your Friends to the Eucharist: Being Church in an Unchurchy World. Hard copy now ready to pack.
- Made air travel and car rental arrangements for a Living Church Foundation meeting in Houston in late October.
- Reviewed the broad strokes of the agenda for next month's annual synod.
- Took care of a piece of administrative detritus on behalf of one of our seminarians.
- Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
- Took the time to pop in for a haircut, since I won't have another day off until the 21st.
- Consultated various Bible commentaries for insights on the readings for Proper 27, in preparation for preaching at St Paul's, Carlinville on November 8.
- Made preparations for the three hours I will spend tomorrow with the vestries of St Matthew's, Bloomington and Christ the King, Normal (the "Parish of McLean County"), where we will discuss how to engage mission in that field cooperatively.
- Friday prayer: Lectio divina on tomorrow's daily office reading from I Kings.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- After supper at home: Conceived and hatched a homily for the feast of St Michael & All Angels, to be delivered, appropriately enough, at St Michael's, O'Fallon on September 27.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
- Out the door at 6:50 for a four-mile walk. May be the last day of summery weather to enjoy in this way.
- Task planning and Morning Prayer at home, which put me in the office right around 10am.
- Dealt with a raft of emails that appeared suddenly as a result of taking a look at my spam folder and finding a number of "good" messages sent there by mistake. (I began to use a new email client after my vacation, and the spam filters need some fine-tuning.)
- Got back to fleshing out and further editing my talks in Mississippi next week. Quite time-consuming, and not completed yet.
- Lunch at home--leftovers.
- Listened to voicemail and processed a bit more email.
- Presided over a 70-minute conference call of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees Executive Committee.
- Continued working on the Mississippi talks.
- Met with Fr Goldacker, the interim at Alton Parish, over some issues related to their transition process.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
- Morning Prayer and devotions in the cathedral.
- Made the necessary preparations to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
- Assembled the Word file for Walt Born's funeral liturgy and emailed it off to those who are going to run with it from here.
- Met with two lay leaders from one of our Eucharistic Communities over a substantive and sensitive matter.
- Took the necessary steps to repurpose a sermon used in a prior year to be redeployed on September 20 at Emmanuel, Champaign.
- Presided and preached at the midday Mass, keeping the lesser feast of Constance and Her Companions, the Martyrs of Memphis.
- Ran a banking errand, picked up an Italian beef sandwich at ChiTown's Finest, and brought it home to eat.
- While still eating (and watching the Cubs-Cardinals game with the sound muted), took a call from my colleague, the secretary of the Nashotah Board, as we lay plans for next month's board meeting.
- Kept a 2:45 appointment with my primary care physician, as we follow up on some nagging issues that don't detract substantively from my quality of life, but which ... well, "nag."
- Took an out-of-the-blue phone call from a member of the General Convention Youth Presence. She wanted to follow up on the brief "twittergate" storm that I was in the center of. It was a gracious and cordial conversation. We both remarked how everyone is more complex than 140 characters can convey.
- Got to work amplifying and refining the two talks I'm set to give in the Diocese of Mississippi next week.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
- Weekly master planning of tasks at home over breakfast.
- Morning Prayer and devotions in the cathedral.
- Refined and printed the working text of this Sunday's homily (St John's, Decatur),
- Met for 90 minutes with the priest-in-charge of one of our Eucharistic Communities, over a range of substantive issues.
- Hand-wrote a thank-you note to a large parish outside the diocese that made a generous contribution to my discretionary fund as an act of support for the positions I took at General Convention.
- Began work on liturgical planning for the scheduled requiem this Saturday for Walter Born, a recent seminary graduate who was preparing for ordination in this diocese, but whose way was detoured by cancer.
- Attended the regular midday Mass, keeping the feast of Our Lady's nativity.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Continued working at home on the Born requiem program.
- Departed at 4pm with Brenda for points south. A parishioner at St George's, Belleville who has season tickets to Busch Stadium, and knowing of my affinity for the Chicago Cubs, invited Brenda and me and Fr Coleman to join him for the game. Let's just say that I enjoyed the game much more than he did.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
St John's Church in Albion was constructed in 1842 (the parish having been founded some while before that). All these years later, there is still a faithful band of worshipers who gather to celebrate the Eucharist on the Lord's Day (none of them are charter members!). It was my joy to join them in Word and Sacrament this morning. But it's a long way from Springfield, so even though their liturgy is at an earlyish 9am, it was 2:40 before I pulled into my own driveway.
St John's, Albion--Mark 7:31-37, Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 1:17-27
One of the “hats” that I used to wear before I acquired the fancy hats I wear now was that of “professor”—in the Diocese of San Joaquin one where I served as a priest for 13 years, I had a hand in the academic formation of future deacons and priests. So, from time to time, I used to grade papers, papers that I myself had assigned. Some students, of course, have an easier time with written communication than others, but reading their work was an important component in the process of evaluating how much they knew and what they had learned. It also served as a sort of mirror for me, because it gave me a clue as to what they thought I’d said in my lectures and what they thought the assigned reading meant. I have my own ideas about such things, of course, and they didn’t always match what I read in the papers my students submitted, which only serves to illustrate the complexity of the process of speaking and hearing and learning, and how fragile that process is, and how it’s vulnerable to breaking down at any given point along the way. If I look at a classroom—or a church, for that matter!—full of confused facial expressions, it could be a sign that I need to find different words to make my point; I’m not being effectively heard. There’s a disconnect between my speaking and their hearing.
Hearing well was crucial for my students. It’s also crucial for anyone who claims to be a Christian or wants to be a Christian, because there’s no way we can understand the Christian message to be “gospel,” to be good news, unless we hear it in some form. Our encounters with the word of God might be in spoken form—through a preacher or teacher or conversation partner. Our encounter with the word of God might be in written form—in the pages of scripture. Or our encounter with the word of God might be in an acted, lived-out form—in a deed of kindness, compassion, or love; or in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church.
When our ability to “hear” the gospel, our ability to recognize the word of God when it hits our senses—when this ability is impaired, or compromised in any way, the consequences are tragic, because we then fail to truly understand the importance of the gospel message. There’s a disconnect between what God is saying and what we are hearing. We are therefore unable to understand, first, the extent of the mess we’re in, as a human race, and as individuals. It may not be very fashionable to say this very loudly or very often—and, some, to be sure, say it too loudly and too often—but it does need to be said, from time to time, by a voice that is considered reasonable, which I hope mine is, of course! What needs to be said is this: Left to our own resources and our own inclinations, we’re all on a fast track to Hell! We're all on a fast track to everlasting separation from God, the source of our life and being, and alienation from everything that it means to be human. We’re doomed. We’re going to end up eternally miserable and be miserable getting there. All the pain and illness and grief and disappointment that we suffer now is just a down payment on that misery. If nothing is done to intervene, that’s what awaits us. If our ears are stopped up and we can’t hear, we won't know what a mess we’re in, and we’ll go on living just like nothing is particularly wrong.
That’s Part One of a two-part gospel message. I know, it’s grim. Part Two is this: God has intervened. God, in His infinite love, has provided the means by which we can be liberated from the grip of alienation and death, saved from our miserable fate, and share in the very life of God. This is made possible by the “amazing grace” available to us in Christ Jesus. But if our ears are stopped up, and we can’t hear properly, we won’t realize just how good this news really is, and we will—along with many others, I have to say—treat Christian faith and Christian religious practice as good things to have in our lives, as something we have a vague sense that we should pay more attention to—someday—but as largely peripheral concerns, nowhere near the center of our lives. In so doing, we make a huge mistake. We’re not getting the message. There is a tragic disconnect between what Christianity actually is, and what we perceive it to be.
When we can’t hear properly, we’re like people living in the path of a dangerous hurricane who to fail to heed repeated warnings or who reject help evacuating, because they don’t believe they’re really in danger, and don’t understand how fortunate they are to have the opportunity to be rescued. Such failure to hear and understand can come from a number of different factors. Some people in the world, believe it or not, have never heard the name of Christ or never encountered the word of God in any form other than what is available to all in nature. There are not many such completely unevangelized peoples, but they do exist. More, however, are deaf to the gospel out of casual neglect, simply not realizing what’s at stake, not realizing that it’s actually important enough to pay attention to. Still others are impervious to the gospel message out of willful avoidance. Those who intentionally evade the searching but loving gaze of God are invariably shackled by guilt or fear, or both. It is a sad irony that when we are guilty or afraid, and therefore most in need of being set free, that very guilt and fear prevents us from accepting the liberation that God wants to give us.
Of course, in the midst of such an epidemic of spiritual deafness, of inability to hear the gospel of Christ clearly, we are also largely mute, unable to speak that gospel clearly. Deafness and muteness often travel together. When we are unable to hear and understand the word of God, how can we be expected to articulate the word of God, either in word or in deed? When I would read a student paper that simply did not say what needed to be said, I didn’t just wonder about that person’s ability to verbalize about what was in his or her brain, I wondered about what did or did not get into that brain in the first place! Failure to speak is often a sign of failure to hear.
But I’m here to tell you, I’ve got good news on top of good news! The underlying good news, of course, that, to put it briefly, “Jesus saves.” But the good news on top of that is that Jesus also stands ready to liberate us from the deafness that keeps us from hearing the gospel in its fullness, and from the muteness that keeps us from proclaiming the gospel in its fullness. We have this touching gospel narrative from the seventh chapter of Mark today. Jesus is just back from a short trip to southern Lebanon, and he’s confronted with a man who, as Mark tells us, “was deaf and had an impediment in his speech.” Jesus then takes the man aside privately and does something that later developed Christian theology would call a “sacramental act,” that is, he put his own fingers on the man’s ears and placed some of his own saliva on the man’s tongue and said, in Aramaic, ephphaphtha, which means, “Be opened.” Now this was literally and immediately a blessed event for that man, but the significance of Jesus’ actions and words in that moment go far beyond a ministry of compassion to one individual person. What transpired that day is a potent symbol, available for all to see, of what Jesus wants to accomplish for all of us, for you and for me. He stands ready to open our ears, that we may hear the gospel clearly, and to loosen our tongues, that we make speak the word of God clearly. Jesus wants to clean up the lines of communication; he wants to see that the cycle of teaching and learning is flowing freely. Appropriately enough, as the sacramental ministry of the Church developed, this symbolic opening of the ears and the mouth became one of the elements of final preparation for baptism. The ears and the lips of the catechumen would be anointed with oil, and the minister would solemnly say, “Ephphaphtha—be opened.” The significance, of course, is that, in baptism, we receive the grace of God in all its fullness, and are commissioned to testify to that grace, to bear witness to the love of God in word and in deed. When the healing ministry of Jesus enables us to hear properly, then we “get it.” We realize what a big deal this Christianity business is. We realize the extent of the mess we’re in, and the depth of the misery that Christ saves us from. We receive the ability to “speak” plainly, as Mark tells us the man healed by Jesus was able to do. And, if we are faithful in receiving that grace, we are also able to speak prudently, in view of today’s warning from St James about the potential destructive power of the tongue, even when speaking the truth. Can you imagine what our life together in this diocese, including here at St John’s, could be like? Can you imagine what the combined witness of all our Eucharistic Communities could be, if we all had our ears cleaned and our tongues loosened? I can imagine, and I get really excited when I do. If you’re feeling like your ears are stopped up today, if you’re feeling tongue-tied in you’re ability to articulate your faith, then I invite you to do three things: First, as we offer this Eucharist together, let the special intention of your heart be for the healing of your own spiritual deafness and muteness. Then, when you come forward to receive the sacrament, feel the loving touch, the compassionate “sacramental act” of Christ, opening your ears and loosening your tongue. Then, after the service, let me know what you’ve done. If you’d like, I’d be happy to pray with you privately.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Good long morning walk ... caught up on a few domestic odds and ends ... practiced the french horn ... read ... napped ... watch the end of the Cubs defeat of the Diamondbacks ... packed ... drove to Effingham, where I now in the custody of the Hampton Inn. On to Albion in the morning.
Friday, September 4, 2015
- Morning Prayer in the office (somebody was cleaning in the church).
- Brought my homily for Proper 19 (September 13 in Decatur) from "rough notes" to "rough draft" status.
- Dealt with a small administrative task pertaining to lay ministry licensing.
- Devoted the rest of the morning to producing an article for the next issue of the Current. Dealt with technological gremlins along the way; I was constantly getting the Mac revolving beachball of interminable delay (I think the Windows version is an hourglass that never empties, right?).
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Back into tech hell. On advice of the Facebook hivemind, I closed out all applications I wasn't actually using at the moment, shut the machine completely off, and retired to the cathedral to pray the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. (Ok, that last part didn't come from the hivemind.) When I returned and restarted, my Mac was in a much better mood. We'll see how long it lasts.
- Spent some time devising a strategy for the progress a potential ordinand whom we are trying to "adopt" from another diocese.
- Thought through and plotted some tasks relative to a sort of "program and budget summit" I would like to convene in January. We've been on autopilot in this area for too long, and need to disturb the systemic homeostasis.
- Spent the rest of the afternoon blowing through small tasks, mostly emails that have been in the reply queue.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
- Out the door at 6:40am for a four-mile walk on a gorgeous late summer morning, with the sunrise painting the clouds pink in the western sky, and hordes of children and youth walking to school or waiting for buses. The route took me about an hour and a quarter, during which time I multi-tasked by praying the morning office (from an app on my phone) and performing my other customary devotions and intercessions.
- After cleaning up, getting breakfast, and planning my work for the day, I was at the office around 9:15.
- Continued a sort of serialized debriefing with the Archdeacon in the wake of both of our long absences this summer.
- Attended to a small chore related to the planning of the sabbatical I plan to take during a chunk of 2016.
- At the request of a friend, I read something he had written for publication and offered him my feedback.
- Attended to a small detail related to the Eucharist for next month's annual synod of the diocese.
- Took care of some Nashotah House board business in anticipation of next week's conference call of the Executive Committee.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Devoted most of the afternoon to reading, discussing with the Archdeacon, and word-smithing feedback to the task force that has drafted a proposed set of major revisions to the constitution of the diocese. I have every hope that something very like this document will be in front of synod for a first reading next month.
- Took a first pass at the readings for Proper 27 in preparation for preaching at St Paul's, Carlinville on November 8.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
- Usual AM routine.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the regular midday Mass in the cathedral chapel.
- Tied up some loose ends on a couple of administrative issues pertaining to clergy deployment.
- Devoted the rest of the morning, and much of the afternoon, to first-pass rough preparation for a couple of talks I am scheduled to give in two weeks' time. I'm a presenter at a clergy gathering in the Diocese of Mississippi on the 15th, and then at a public event at the cathedral in Jackson on the 16th. My topics, respectively, are Looking to the Rock from Which You Were Hewn: Soundings and Revelation and Authority and Please Don't Invite Your Friends to the Eucharist: Being Church in an Unchurchy World. This is at the invitation of the Bishop of Mississippi, but it has grown out of the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight relationship I have had with the parish of Trinity, Yazoo City.
- Duly presided and preached at the scheduled Mass, keeping the lesser feast appointed for the day.
- Lunch at Applebee's with the cathedral Provost, Fr Andy Hook.
- Continued to debrief with the Archdeacon over various matters that arise from the time of either his long absence, or mine.
- Got back to work on the Mississippi talks. Completed what I had hoped to accomplish. Both are roughed out to a good bit of detail. Back to them next week.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
- Back to the usual weekday routine: task planning with breakfast, driving in, Angelus, personal intercessions, and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Reviewed and winnowed the considerable stack of hard-copy mail that was waiting for me on my desk. This took most of the morning.
- Spoke by phone with one of our priests over a personal issue.
- Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Albion).
- Lunch at home--chili leftovers.
- Attended to a bit of Living Church Foundation business.
- Substantive phone conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House, in anticipation of next week's Executive Committee conference call.
- Processed a handful of emails, none of which required an inordinate amount of time, but all of which required more than a perfunctory few moments.
- Substantive phone conversation with another of our priests over a prickly pastoral issue.
- Yet another phone chat with a priest, this one less substantive.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.