Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Tuesday

  • Weekly task planning at home. More than I will ever have time to accomplish this week.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a voicemail with an email.
  • Conferred with the Treasurer and the Archdeacon over an emerging financial/administrative situation in one of our parishes. Followed up with an email to arrange a meeting.
  • Made some last minute adjustments to the bulletin for the Maundy Thursday liturgy at the cathedral. Emailed it to Bonnie, then stepped next door to discuss it with her.
  • Spoke by phone with the Bishop of Peru. The way is now clear to make travel plans to be there in July in order to participate in the consecration of new bishops for what is slated to be a new province of the Anglican Communion.
  • Reviewed a draft of a revised charter and statutes for Nashotah House. Made some notations and sent them along to the consultant who is helping us with this project.
  • Attended the midday Mass in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Attended to some details pertaining to next week's trip to Cuba with my HOB Class of 2011 colleagues. This is our annual continuing education get together, as the Bishop of Cuba is an honorary member of our class, having been with us for "baby bishops" school.
  • Finished compiling, edited, packaged, and sent via email to the search consultant of one of our parishes in transition that names of potential candidates that I have assembled for them so far. 
  • Ran an errand up to Illinois National Bank that got me an additional 2000 steps on the pedometer.
  • His the road right at 4pm for points north. While en route, had a planned substantive conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • In Normal, met with one of our postulants in the ordination process.
  • Met with the Mission Leadership Team (aka Vestry) of Christ the King, Normal as they begin a time of transition in the wake of the impending departure of Fr Desmond Francis.
  • Home around 9:15.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Presided and preached at two quite well-attended liturgies at St Paul's Cathedral in Springfield. As circumstances have developed, last year at this time we were between the untimely death of the last permanent priest to serve there and the arrival of the interim. This year we are between the departure of the interim and the arrival of the next Provost. Each time it has been my joyful duty to step in and do the liturgical and sacramental (and, to be honest, pastoral and administrative) heavy lifting during Holy Week. It's fun, but it will be exhausting. This photo is of the reading of the Passion according to St Mark at the 10:30 celebration.


Sermon for Palm Sunday

St Paul's Cathedral--Psalm 22:1-11

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” This is the refrain (literally, perhaps, depending on how we do the liturgy) that haunts us today and during this entire week. Even though Psalm 22 was written probably around a thousand years before Christ, the gospel evangelists put it on his lips as he hangs on the cross.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry, and from the words of my distress?” The whole passage is almost unbearably poignant: crying day and night without answer; being laughed at, scorned, and derided, acutely aware that trouble is near, but there is none to help.

Suffering is endemic to the human condition. Nobody escapes it completely, except perhaps those who die suddenly in very early infancy. Whether it’s a scraped knee or a knife in the gut, whether it’s a schoolyard insult or libelous humiliation for all to see on the internet; whether it’s a friend standing you up for a coffee date, or a beloved spouse telling you that “there’s somebody else”; whether it’s a loss of a job or the loss of a child; whether it’s a temporary headache or the searing pain of late-stage cancer—human beings suffer. There are no exceptions. It’s an inescapable fact of life, woven into the human experience.

That said, God’s purpose is to redeem the human condition. God is not content for suffering to have the last word. God is not content for pain or anxiety or disease or depression or deprivation of any sort to have the last word. God is not content for death to have the last word. God is in the redemption business. That’s why we’re here today, doing what we’re doing.  

And that is precisely why Jesus handed himself over to be crucified. A few weeks ago, as we celebrated Christmas and Epiphany, we read scriptures and sang hymns and heard sermons that rejoiced in the mystery of the incarnation, the mystery of the Word made flesh, God with us, God assuming human nature, God becoming as we are that we might become as God is. And well we should, for that is the very calling card of the gospel, of the good news: We don’t have to search for God because God has already sought us out and found us, and he has done so by becoming one of us, joining us in this mystery we call the human condition. But we stop short of the whole truth if we fail to acknowledge that the mystery of the human condition includes suffering; the mystery of the human condition includes death. And it makes no sense, and is of no help to us whatsoever, if God is merely born among us. What gives that reality its weight, what gives that reality its significance and meaning, is that God also suffered among us and died among us. Experience that is evaded cannot be redeemed because it has not been embraced. Without the cross, the incarnation is incomplete. On the cross, as he cries out in cosmic loneliness, and as he breathes his last, Jesus shows us the completeness of his incarnation, because on the cross he assumed the fullness of the human condition, which includes suffering and death. The suffering of Jesus, foretold poetically in Psalm 22, demonstrates God’s full embrace of the human condition.

And we do ourselves no favors by glossing over the stark reality of Jesus’ cry from the cross. We’re tempted to do so because we are privileged to know the end of the story. We know about the empty tomb; we know about Easter morning. But at that moment, Jesus wasn’t thinking to himself, “If I can just tough it out here for a little while longer, it’s all going to be OK. I’m not really dying; I’m going through the motions. It’s all a trick, a show. My Father and I are pulling a fast one, but he’s going to make it all better in just a bit. I’ve just got to hang in here.” No, Jesus wasn’t faking it. He really felt forsaken because he really was forsaken. In that dark moment, God the Father turned his back on God the Son, God denied his very self, all out of the deep love that he bears toward your rebellious and wayward soul, and my rebellious and wayward soul. 

And at the same time that God is most acutely absent from Jesus, God is most acutely present for us in Jesus’ faithful suffering. Every degree of abandonment that Jesus felt while hanging on the cross is a degree of love that is unleashed toward the healing of human brokenness and the redemption of human suffering. As Isaiah prophesies, “Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.”
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In the light of the cross, then, our suffering has meaning. Or, at least it can have meaning if we know what to do with it. In my quarter century of pastoral experience, one of the greatest tragedies I have observed is when suffering is wasted. So many people bear the suffering that comes their way and blame themselves for it. Sure, we can certainly get ourselves into trouble by making stupid decisions and behaving foolishly. But there is plenty of suffering that is completely random and utterly senseless, and not plausibly linked to anything the sufferer has done or left undone. Others suffer, and blame it on God, either in rage—“God, how could you do this to me?!—or with just a rueful shrug of the shoulders: Whatever will be will be. My heart breaks when I run into situations like these. They truly are tragic. At least Jesus, in his abandonment, knew that his suffering meant something, that it was configured to the life of the world.

In contrast to the tragedy of wasted suffering is the glory of suffering that is offered up for redemption. I’m not suggesting that we court suffering. There is no need to invent or concoct suffering; it will find us soon enough. But when suffering is right in front of us, blocking our way, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s the cross—our cross—that Jesus bids us take up daily in order to follow him as his disciple. We have a choice between trying to ignore it or evade it, of grudgingly accepting it, or—and this one is the right answer—of embracing it, taking it up. We take up the cross of suffering, and then we intentionally put that suffering at God’s disposal. We offer our suffering up as a tool that is available to God for God’s ongoing project of redemption, of patiently and methodically reweaving the fabric of a torn and broken universe. In this way, suffering is harnessed and exploited. It becomes effective and fruitful. It bears fruit in the perfection of our holiness, in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. It bears fruit in making the sheer glory of God clearer and more visible. It bears fruit in the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ, the herald in this world of the coming of the kingdom of God. And it bears fruit in ways that we cannot imagine, that we will never even be aware of this side of eternity. It is this cosmic and grand work of redemption that we celebrate this week, and it is on this cosmic and grand work of redemption that we set our hope. And it would all be impossible without that horrible moment of abandonment as Jesus hangs on the cross. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday

  • Up early (for a Saturday). Weights and treadmill. Out the door to the cathedral complex around 9:15. 
  • Many of the details of the Chrism Mass were necessarily left for the pretty much the last minute--namely drafting people for particular jobs. It all got done in good order.
  • Presided at the annual Mass of Chrism, at which the clergy renew their ordination vows and the oils used in baptism and the anointing of the sick are blessed. Fr Dave Halt delivered an excellent homily.
  • Joined the clergy and spouses for lunch in the Roundhouse.
  • Spent the next two hours getting back in touch with how much work is required, dealing with a mountain of details, to make a major extraordinary liturgy like Palm Sunday happen in a seemingly effortless fashion. Kudos to the cathedral Altar Guild, with whom I co-labored much of the time. When I got home a little past 3:00, I was running on empty. Mindless television was called for to recharge my batteries.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday (Charles Henry Brent)

  • The cathedral area was already a beehive of activity by the time I arrived, so Morning Prayer happened in the office, and even then, not without interruptions.
  • Conferred with Bonnie in the cathedral office, took some of the load off her desk and got her pointed in a good direction with respect to what was left.
  • Helped a couple of members of the Altar Guild with the beginning preparation for reconfiguring the liturgical space for the Chrism Mass and Holy Week.
  • Got started on laying the broad strokes for my next editorial deadline on the Covenant blog.
  • Met with Nichol del Giorno, cathedral music director, to review some Chrism Mass and Holy Week details.
  • Returned to the cathedral to continue with the necessary furniture moving and related preparations.
  • Finished my Covenant blog project.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Began to look at some Nashotah House materials in early preparation for May's board meeting.
  • Ran off to an appointment with my cardiologist, following up on the drama from earlier in the month.
  • Back to the Nashotah project.
  • Formulated some strategy relative to a couple of people in the ordination process.
  • Took my exegetical notes on the propers for Easter III to the stage of a developed outline.
  • Turned my attention to Easter V, spending more quality time with the readings and charting a plausible path toward a homiletical message.
  • In the cathedral, prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary ... then Evening Prayer.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thursday

  • After several interruptions due to travel or illness, back to the Thursday morning weights and treadmill routine. One does lose some ground when one doesn't keep up.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with Bonnie in the cathedral office over the several service programs that need to be produced.
  • Continued to work on the bulletin for the Palm Sunday main liturgy, stymied by one technical difficulty after another. Technology is not always my friend.
  • Made travel arrangements to attend a Living Church Foundation board meeting in Dallas next month.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took care of task related to this summer's St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Worked on the bulletin for Maundy Thursday. Again, inordinately time-consuming due to it not being a routine task.
  • Spent some more quality time with the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, when it will be my privilege to preach at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. Have a clear path to a message now.
  • Attended to a small administrative chore pertaining to one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Added the Triduum liturgy rehearsal times to my calendar.
  • Spent some time examining options for the pre-ordination formation of deacons-to-be.
  • Rummaged through prior years' Maundy Thursday sermons and selected one that can be refurbished for use next week. Then did the same for Easter. Should I be embarrassed about reusing decent material as long as I don't do it in the same place twice? I don't think so.
  • Responded to an email from a priest outside the diocese who I suspect might be able to help us with a future clergy conference.
  • Reviewed some materials from the Executive Director of Forward Movement, part of my responsibility as a board member.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Annunciation

  • Task planning at home. Way more in the queue for this week than I will be able to accomplish.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Met with Bonnie Roberts, the cathedral office manager, to talk about issues related to the service bulletins for the Chrism Mass, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week.
  • Brought my working notes for tonight's Lenten teaching series from "rough" to "polished."
  • Worked on the bulletin for the early Palm Sunday liturgy at the cathedral; delivered it to Bonnie via email.
  • Rushed off to an appointment with a dermatologist at Springfield Clinic. I've been having some skin irritation issues that seem to be traceable to a reaction to the gel used in an echocardiogram procedure a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully we have a handle on it now, but it's been tricky.
  • Began the work of refining and polishing my homily for this Sunday.
  • Attended Mass in the cathedral chapel for the feast of the Annunciation or Our Lady.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Completed refining this Sunday's sermon.
  • Spoke by phone with Fr John Henry as he wore his Chair-of-the-Commission-on-Ministry hat.
  • Identified a Maundy Thursday sermon from a previous year that has the potential to be repurposed for use next week. Began work toward that end.
  • Arranged for contributions from the discretionary fund to the Illinois Conference of Churches, and to the Living Church Foundation.
  • Processed--which mostly means scanned--the accumulated pile of material in my physical inbox.
  • Out the door at 4:30 for O'Fallon. While en route, got to chat by phone with the Bishop of Calgary, who is an old friend and seminary classmate.
  • Spent the final Lenten Wednesday with the people of St Michael's, O'Fallon, talking about the final two promises of the Baptismal Covenant. Back home around 9:45.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday

Back from Arizona yesterday--tanned (well, a tad burned, actually) and relaxed. Good time.
  • Task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Brief word with the Treasurer on an administrative matter.
  • Debriefed with a Archdeacon on a couple of ongoing "situations."
  • Called the blood bank to see if a certain prescription I'm temporarily on precludes me from donating. It does. Appointment rescheduled.
  • After failing to find his phone number (which is weird, because we exchanged text messages several times in late January, but they seem to have disappeared from the record), composed and sent an email to Bishop Godfrey of our companion Diocese of Peru.
  • Took care of six relatively quick pastoral/administrative matters via email.
  • Got to work in earnest on the program for this Saturday's Mass of Chrism. Things that were second nature to me when I was in parish work no longer are, so it was more time-consuming than it ought to have been.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Tied up some remaining loose ends in Chrism Mass preparation.
  • Dutifully completed an online survey at the request of the College for Bishops. I am the very model of compliance.
  • Placed a phone call and left a voicemail regarding some Nashotah House business.
  • Serious work on the bulletin for this Sunday at the cathedral. Since there is no resident priest there at the moment, those duties fall to me. There were a lot of technological hoops to jump through, moving material from previous years that was set up in Publisher into Word. I'm pretty good at this sort of thing, but rusty, so it was, again, time-consuming.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

St Joseph

Between the Standing Committee of the diocese as it was constituted in 2010, and the calendar of the Presiding Bishop, it was decided that St Joseph would be the patron of my episcopate, as I was consecrated on this day four years ago. St Joseph was the guardian of the BVM, who is the prototype of the Church. Following the patron of my episcopate, I endeavor to be a guardian of the Church. Still feeling like a round peg in a round hole, and grateful to the faithful of the diocese for placing their trust in me.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Briefly took care of an administrative concern with the Archdeacon.
  • Prepared to celebrate and preach at the midday liturgy.
  • Met with the Office Manager and Treasurer of the cathedral on a couple of imminent concerns.
  • Met with Connie Lynn, cathedral Altar Guild directress, to go over some details of the Chrism Mass and Holy Week.
  • Attended to a small detail pertaining to the videography of my Lenten series in O'Fallon.
  • Attended to some Nashotah House business via email.
  • Presided and preached at the Mass for St Joseph's Day.
  • Lunch at home, after running a brief errand.
  • Took some notes toward a Palm Sunday homily to the stage of rough draft text.
  • Laid out the broad strokes for next Wednesday's final Lenten series presentation in O'Fallon.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Going dark in this space until next Tuesday. Tomorrow Brenda and I fly to Phoenix, where we have tickets to two Cubs spring training games over the weekend!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

Mostly a travel day. After breakfast at Kanuga, packed my stuff and hung out on the reception lounge processing emails and take care of a handful of to-do items. Then it was time to board a shuttle to Asheville Regional Airport. There were probably a dozen to fifteen bishops on the 1:09 departure to Atalanta. Made my connection there and arrived in St Louis a little past 4:00. By the time I got to my car and waded through thick late-afternoon traffic, I was right on time for the Wednesday Lenten program at St Michael's, O'Fallon. Home around 9:30, for which I was immensely grateful.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thursday

Up and out of my St Louis hotel around 5:30am, in time for a short drive to STL, parking, catching a shuttle, checking in, and clearing security ahead of a 7:05 departure for Atlanta, and thence to Asheville, NC. All went smoothly, except that there were a dozen or so bishops on the last leg, so ... you know ... if something had happened.  After assembling on the curb near baggage claim, where we waited for our ride, it was about 2:00 by the time I was registered and got my room key at the camp and conference center known as Kanuga. Spend the afternoon and evening in informal conversation with colleagues, helping Brenda with a project via email, texting, and Facetime, did some reading in church history oriented toward a specific practical purpose, and grabbed a nap. Work begins tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday

  • Back to a regular weekday workday routine: task planning--and a bit of task doing--while still at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt via email and brief in-person meeting with several liturgical planning details for Holy Week at the cathedral.
  • Returned a phone message from one of our lay leaders. 
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a couple of administrative matters.
  • Small administrivia re the "big" House of Bishops meeting this week and the mere provincial HOB meeting next month.
  • Developed, refined, and printed working notes for next Wednesday's Lenten series presentation in O'Fallon.
  • Kept an appointment with my primary care physician to follow up on the weekend's drama.
  • Lunch from Long John Silver's (what can I say? there it was, right on my way home), eaten at home.
  • Packed for a week away from home.
  • Met with one of our lay leaders regarding some ongoing issues in a parish.
  • Assembled and delivered via Dropbox the JPEG files my late brother took as my official portrait options four years ago, for a parish that neglected to pony up when the time was right.
  • Hit the road at 4:15 for points south. Enjoyed supper with the good folks from St Michael's, O'Fallon and spoke with them about our baptismal vow to "persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord."
  • Drove into St Louis and checked in at the Hampton Inn near the airport, ahead of a 7am flight in the morning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday

The original plan was that, having seen an opera in Chicago last night, Brenda and I would spend some quality time at the Chicago Art Institute (one of our favorite haunts) this morning, catch the 1:45pm Texas Eagle, and get back to Springfield in time for dinner. But because of the sudden decline of my health over the weekend, that trip never happened. I lay very low yesterday, and was still pretty sick--fever, chills, general severe malaise (that old "run over by a truck" feeling). Slept a lot. But, after a pretty good night, I felt a great deal better this morning--virtually normal, in fact. I have an appointment to see my doctor tomorrow morning, but, unless she strongly cautions otherwise, I hope to re-engage my calendar, make my scheduled appearance at St Michael's, O'Fallon in the evening, and fly to North Carolina Thursday morning for six days of the House of Bishops. That's the plan, at any rate, but I have learned, with difficulty, that plans are subject to change. Several have chided me about the pace of my life, with entreaties to slow down. I take those warnings seriously. Meanwhile, I was semi-productive from home today, taking a scheduled phone call from one of our key lay leaders, and handling a pretty substantial stack of emails and related tasks -- but, all from the comfort of my recliner. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Third Sunday in Lent

Havana, IL is a quaintly adorable sleepy river town, and St Barnabas' Church there is an honest-to-goodness gem of a building, and there are great people in that community But this morning's visit was the strangest ever, as, after delivering myself of the homily linked herewith, I had to sit down and ask the priest-in-charge to continue with the liturgy. I felt like I might keel over at the altar. Brenda drove home. Canceling travel plans to Chicago tomorrow for the opera. I need to lie very, very low.

Sermon for Lent III

St Barnabas', Havana--Psalm 19:7-14, Exodus 20:1-17

After the Vietnam War was over, and the U.S. military stopped inducting draftees, the Selective Service System nevertheless remained in business, and the requirement that young men register for the draft when they turn 18 was never repealed. Apparently, however, there was a popular misimpression to the contrary, and the government bureaucrats in charge of such things were alarmed at the level of noncompliance. So they resorted to desperate measures, and retained the services of an advertising agency. The resulting campaign was run for several years—on television, on radio, and in print. There were several different scenarios that set up the situation, but the punch line was always the same: “It’s not just a good idea, it’s the LAW.”

It’s the law. Those words can evoke different responses in different people. In some, they call forth humble compliance, a submission to something larger than oneself, a realization that the rule of law is the very basis of civilized society. In others, the phrase stirs up a spirit of rebellious defiance, like a playground bully exclaiming, “Oh yeah? Well make me!” But in either case, it does get our attention. Whether we comply with the law or defy the law, our behavior is nevertheless defined in terms of the law.

In today’s liturgy, we are confronted with the ultimate expression of the concept of law: the Ten Commandments. They have been around for four thousand years, and constitute the bedrock of the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Within the culture of Anglican Christianity, the Decalogue is particularly conspicuous and ingrained. When Archbishop Cranmer reworked the liturgy of the Eucharist for the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, he put the Ten Commandments at the very beginning of the service, and they have remained there—either prescribed or as an option—ever since. In many parish churches both in England and in older parts of America, they are engraved in stone or wood and displayed prominently on the east wall. One might argue, of course, that the Ten Commandments are honored more in the breach than in the observance—but either way, they are conspicuous.

The notion of law seems obvious enough. Every human society and community has it in one form or another. If we break the law, there is some adverse consequence, some kind of punishment, either now or later. If we keep the law, there is some sort of reward or other pleasant consequence (even if it’s just the avoidance of a negative one).

But can it really be all that simplistic? I suspect we do well to disabuse ourselves of childish misconceptions about law in general, and God’s law in particular. One of these misconceptions is that, by keeping God’s law faithfully, we can put him in our debt. By walking the straight and narrow, we can obligate God to bless us or favor us. By obeying God, we have earned our reward, and it is morally incumbent upon Him to produce it, to hand it over, as if it had been justly bought and paid for.

The fact is, however, every arrow we shoot toward the target of trying to earn God’s favor by keeping His law falls way short of the mark. The New Testament Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, and it literally means “falling short of the mark.” St Paul tells us in the epistle to the Romans that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Some of our arrows, to be sure, get further on down toward the target than others, but they all fall short. So no amount of law keeping can ethically obligate God to even give us the time of day, let alone a heavenly reward.

Another misconception thinks in terms not of results, but of effort. This is certainly a more kindly view. It doesn’t matter that we hit the target, but only that we try really hard, give it our best effort, and get as close as we can. This inclines God to love us, or perhaps only like us, or at least think we’re cute. We could do worse, I suppose, than to be God’s affectionately smiled-at pets, mascots of the kingdom of Heaven. But such a view woefully underestimates the nature and purpose of human existence—we are created, after all, in the very image and likeness of God, to be His friends, not his pets. But more than that, the “A for effort” view of keeping the law betrays a paltry understanding of the purity of God’s holiness. It isn’t that God is arbitrarily mean or cosmically uptight. But by his very nature, in his essential being, God cannot indefinitely tolerate imperfection. He is patient and long-suffering and abounding in mercy. He accepts me, as the song says, “just as I am,” but he does not wish me to remain in that condition! He wants me to be able to hit the target every time, and not ever fall short. And he will not simply more the target in order to enable me to do so. That would not be fair, either to God or to me.

Now, from a negative perspective, there’s another misimpression of what it means to be law-abiding. The experience of many is that the law is a cruel joke, by which God amuses Himself by watching us fail. “Oops! There they go again, those silly humans. Won’t they ever get it right?” Or, in a less cynical and more rational mode, the law is not really “from God” at all, but, rather, a projection onto God of the human need for security, for boundaries we can rely on. The courageous thing to do is to admit that all laws are man-made, and while many of them may indeed be good ideas, we are not ultimately accountable to any of them. No law is immune from the possibility that circumstances may justify an exception. The Ten Commandments are, in effect, ten “guidelines” which are good to check in with before making an ethical decision.

Now, I hope I don’t have to tell you that I believe all of these notions—that we can obligate God by keeping the law, that we can increase the chances of God liking us if we try really hard      to keep the law, that the law is a cruel joke for God’s entertainment, and the that law is merely a human invention and projection—all of these notions are based on false suppositions. But they arise from an understandable desire to integrate our immediate experience with our search for ultimate meaning, to have our conception of what is ideal for us determined by our prior experience of what is real for us. And so there are fragments of truth and goodness in what is otherwise a nasty pile of selfishness and moral relativism.

The 19th Psalm, which is part of our prayer at this liturgy, expresses in beautiful poetry what I am trying to say through less than adequate prose. “The law of the Lord is perfect...and revives the soul.” Far from being oppressive or authoritarian, far from been lifeless and technical, the Psalmist sees God’s law as life-giving, refreshing and reviving to the soul, like water flowing through a desert. He goes on to say that the “testimony  of the Lord...gives wisdom”—it gives us practical aid in coping with the bewildering complexities of human relationships. “The statutes”—what more legal-sounding word is there than “statutes”?!—the “statutes of the Lord and just and rejoice the heart.” There is something beautiful about justice, just as there is in an elegantly crafted geometric pattern. Both are a joy to behold. And it is only the law that allows us to see the beauty of justice, that allows our hearts to rejoice thereby.

The Psalmist continues, “The commandment of the Lord is clear...and gives light to the eyes.” Eyes tell the story, don’t they? When someone’s heart and soul are whole and integrated, you can tell it in his or her eyes, and vice versa. It is the commandment of the Lord that reveals the integrity of the way we live, a revelation that is visible in our eyes. According to the Psalmist, then, there is intrinsic good that is made evident in the law. The law refreshes and nourishes and strengthens. To be nourished and refreshed and strengthened are the fruits of a life lived close to the heart of God. In fact, “keeping the law” is a practical description of what it looks like when we align ourselves with the flow of God’s loving energy.

It’s not that the law is an end of itself. We don’t keep the law just for the sake of keeping the law. In fact, our aim shouldn’t be “keeping the law” at all, it should be singing in harmony with God, allowing our energy to flow in the same direction in which his is flowing, letting our hearts assume the shape of God’s heart. And how do we know how well we are accomplishing these aims? By means of the law. The law is a measuring stick by which we can tell how we’re doing in the process of offering ourselves to God for the purpose of being blessed and broken and given for the life of the world. The law of the Lord is perfect and just and clear. It revives the soul and gives wisdom and joy and light.

Most of us have used a computer program. Even if there’s not an appliance in our home that we call a computer, if we drive a car that’s been built in the last twenty years, or use a cell phone, or even a microwave, we are, in fact, using a computer. Now, for everything that we use each of these “computers” for, some programmer had to sit down and write what they call “lines of code”—hundreds and thousands of individual commands that tell the computer how to do what we want it to do, breaking down complex tasks into simple “Yes/No” bits of information. Of course, when we use a computer, for instance, to support a graphics program capable of creating beautiful works of visual art, most of us are not thinking about lines of code. But the lines of code—prosaic and dull and technical as they are—the lines of code are essential to the creation of the poetic and artistic and transcendently beautiful output that eventually emerges from the color printer. “Lines of code” describe, in effect, what it “looks like” to be able to create graphic art.

It’s the same relationship between God’s law and human moral behavior, human integrity. The law describes what it looks like to be attuned to God’s love, God’s ways. We can’t keep it perfectly. Much of the time, we can’t even keep it well. But by the grace of Christ, we can, in time, be transformed into people who keep it naturally, without even thinking about it, as part of our redeemed nature. Only then will the law become obsolete. Until then, it’s a good idea to keep the law.


Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday (Ss Perpetua & Felicity)

One never plans on a day like I had today, but, in the larger scheme of things, I was well-timed, in that my "real" life has been only minimally disrupted. 

Ever since my surgery two years ago to replace my aortic valve, I've had some ongoing mild "chest discomfort" symptoms. I've discussed them with my cardiologist, and only yesterday my new primary care physician and I charted a course to figure it all out. Yesterday afternoon, however, I developed a new twist on my symptoms, something I haven't experienced before. So I decided this morning to check it out at urgent care. As part of that process, they did an EKG, the results of which tripped a decision matrix, and the "standard of care" was for me to be shipped to the ER ... in an ambulance, no less.

Once there, they drew blood for the usual cardiac enzyme test ... one of the steps in diagnosing a heart attack. But they have to draw blood twice, four hours apart, and compare the change in enzyme levels between the two. So I had a lot of just down time, and with nothing to eat. Along the way, they did an echocardiogram--a moderately uncomfortable 45 minute procedure. I also developed a low grade fever. 

Anyway, the enzyme test came back negative--no presence of the relevant enzyme in either draw. Not a cardiac event. But my white cell count was elevated. That, combined with the fever, made the ER resident who looks like he just dropped in from high school football practice opine, "Maybe it's the onset of pneumonia." He prescribed an antibiotic. So I will follow up with my regular doctor on Monday. In the meantime, I'm feeling better than I have all day and plan to stick to my schedule going forward unless something else intervenes.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • First appointment to break in a new primary care physician. She is curious and has a sense of humor, so I think we'll get along. That she may be younger than my own daughters is another matter entirely.
  • Took care of a bit of administrivia pertaining to the cathedral.
  • Via web and phone, attended to an issue involving my Chicago (CTA Ventra) transit card, which I do use most every time I'm in that area. Good customer service experience. Issue resolved.
  • In my capacity as "temporary parish priest" at the cathedral during Holy Week, where it looks like there will be nobody else in Holy Orders suited up and ready for duty, I did some of the heavy lifting that I hope will lead eventually to a service leaflet for Palm Sunday.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Did my "rough prep" for the fourth Lenten Wednesday at St Michael's, O'Fallon--March 18.
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the appointed readings for Easter V, in preparation for preaching at St George's, Belleville.
  • Back in cathedral pastor mode: Combed the parish list and selected the initial batch of invitees to have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday. Sent them a batch email. They won't all say Yes, so the list will change some before the actual event.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on the daily office OT reading for tomorrow, from Jeremiah.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday

  • Back to my customary Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Once in a while, something takes way too long. Today was one of those days, and the culprit was the task of rounding up and sending on to the cathedral music director some items for Holy Week that I had promised her. Some electronic files that I thought I had, I apparently no longer have. Took my whole morning.
  • Lunch from ChiTown's Finest (Italian beef), eaten at home.
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, in preparation for preaching at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign.
  • Took care of an important piece of business pertaining to this summer's first scheduled St Michael's Youth Conference in the diocese.
  • Read some materials in preparation for one component of next week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Fleshed out, refined, and printed my working notes for next week's Lenten teaching series session at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Met with Claire Ribelin from the cathedral to discuss needs for liturgical ministers during Holy Week.
  • Read and responded to two Lenten Ember Day letters from individuals in the ordination process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wednesday

  • Daily task planning at home.
  • Made a few technical preparations for being able to record on video my presentation this evening in O'Fallon.
  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • Composed and sent a message via email to an individual in the early stages of the ordination discernment process laying out some specific near term steps in that journey.
  • Met for the better part of an hour via Skype with the Dean of Nashotah House and a consultant retained by the trustees to assist with reworking our governance procedures.
  • Met for an hour and twenty minutes with a priest regarding some ongoing pastoral and administrative issues. The Archdeacon was in on part of this meeting.
  • Lunch at home; leftovers.
  • Attended to some administrative followup related to the late morning meeting.
  • Kept a phone appointment with a priest to discuss how a particular individual's gifts might be deployed for the sake of the mission of the diocese.
  • Worked on my homily for Palm Sunday. Identified a central theme from my exegetical notes and roughed out the broad strokes of where I want to go with it.
  • Departed at 4pm for points south. Enjoyed a Lenten supper with the folks at St Michael's, O'Fallon and led them in a look at the first promise of the Baptismal Covenant: "Will you be faithful in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?"
  • Back home right at 9:30.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday (John & Charles Wesley)

  • Weekly task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon regarding one of our parishes in transition.
  • Reviewed a credit card statement to make sure expenses were properly categorized.
  • Spoke briefly by phone with the Chancellor on an administrative procedural question.
  • Met with (soon to be retiring) Treasurer Jim Donkin to discuss some of the larger conceptual issues surrounding diocesan finances, as we discern how to proceed in the wake of his departure.
  • Began drafting some content for the website, which will soon be repurposed as front page material for the next issue of the Current.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Got back to work on the aforementioned website article.
  • Kept a phone appointment with one of our clergy to discuss an individual in the early stages of the ordination discernment process.
  • Returned to the website article, this time bringing to a conclusion and pressing "Publish."
  • Made arrangements to obtain some Canadian currency. Next month I will be spending five days in Cuba with my Bishops Class of 2011 colleagues. Despite the recent thaw in relations, U.S. currency is still of no value there.
  • Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Wrote a substantive email to my fellow Nashotah House trustees.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent

Awake and up at 5am to take stock of the weather situation. There was about a foot of snow on the driveway and it was still coming down. All the roads between Springfield and the Metro East area were colored red on IDOT's website, which means "100% covered with ice and/or snow." So, with reluctance, I made the decision not to set out for my scheduled visitation to St Bartholomew's, Granite City. A text message to Fr Clavier, and the deed was done. In due course, I got behind a snow blower and cleared the driveway, so Brenda and I could be pew sitters at a very sparsely attended 10:30 Eucharist at St Paul's Cathedral. In nearly four years of the doing the bishop thing, this is the first time weather has prevented me from making a visitation. I was not amused. The afternoon and evening were devoted to completing and posting a long and substantive blog post on reconciliation among Anglicans, stimulated by time spent with some U.S. and Canadian bishops last week, together with two primate from the Global South.