Saturday, April 30, 2016
Somewhat leisurely morning at home, though perhaps somewhat less so than most Saturdays. In due course, I got to work refining and editing the text of my homily for tomorrow at Redeemer, Cairo. That endeavor was interrupted at 10:15 by my electronic calendar reminding me that I had a 10:30 appointment at the office with a candidate from out of the diocese for one of our vacant cures. With all the travel I've been doing, this one slipped under my mental radar, so I was grateful for the technology. I hastily threw on some appropriate attire and pulled into the office parking lot right on the nose at 10:30. (There's a lot to be said for a short commute.) That work completed about an hour later, I headed home, picking up some Chinese food for lunch from HyVee. Eventually I got back to completing my sermon, and by then it was time to pack for an overnight. We pulled out of the driveway at 2:50, about 20 minutes behind our intended schedule, and arrived at our destination at 6:10--a rural area between the small communities of Anna and Dongola. The weather improved markedly the further south we got. We were graciously entertained for dinner at the home of Bert and Emma Gruchy, parishioners at Redeemer, who are also our hosts for the night.
Friday, April 29, 2016
The weather forecast for Dallas being what it was, I had some plausible anxiety about getting home on schedule. But all went smoothly with my itinerary, and the flight from DFW landed at SPI on schedule around 1:30pm. While I was waiting for my checked luggage, however, I heard an announcement that the turnaround flight back to Dallas would be delayed by at least two hours, so we apparently got out while the gettin' was good. Got home, unpacked, then settled in to process a pile of emails and provide some detailed feedback to the group working on our canonical revisions. Before going out to dinner with Brenda, I had a good long walk, a habit that is usually unavailable to me when I travel.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Spent the day taking care of business with the Living Church Foundation board. What a dynamic and effective ministry this is. I am so proud and honored to be part of it. In the evening, we gathered at the home of one of our members for a "friendraiser"--a term-of-art in the fundraising world to denote to which potential donors are invited and the "case" is made, but there's no "ask." TLC is rolling out an endowment campaign, and this was part of the "soft" launch. My assessment is that it went very well.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
- Usual AM routine. MP in the cathedral.
- Attended to transport and lodging arrangements for a trip coming up in early June.
- Took care of a routine end-of-the-month personal organization chore.
- Took a substantive incoming phone call from one of our parish clergy.
- Spoke by phone at some length and with weighty content with one of our postulants in the ordination process.
- Left for home on the early side in deference to afternoon travel plans.
- Ate lunch, and packed for two nights away.
- Just past 1:00, headed up to SPI to catch the 2:11 departure for Dallas.
- Arrived DFW at 4:00, retrieved my luggage, picked up my rental car, used the Waze app on my phone to guide me my hotel. With rush hour traffic, it was 6:00 before I was at the check-in desk.
- Dropping my stuff on in my room, I headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant called Javier's, where I enjoyed good food, drink, and conversation with members of the Living Church Foundation board ahead of tomorrow's annual meeting.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
- Usual AM routine: task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took care of a couple administrative chores in connection with last Sunday's DEPO visitation in Yazoo City, MS., pivoting from that to an effort to move the ball down the field with respect to the Novena/Wave of Prayer that begins next week.
- Reviewed and acted on a marital judgment request from one of our parish clergy.
- Spent some quality time with the details of an ordination coming up late next month, putting some initial liturgical decisions in play with the relevant parties.
- Dealt via a group email with a programmatic-communication issue.
- Registered online for the events at Nashotah House during graduation week next month,
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Took the developed outline of my homily for this Sunday at Redeemer, Cairo to the "rough draft" stage.
- Spent some good time with an exegetical commentary on the readings for Proper 5, in preparation for preaching at Robinson, Albion, and Mt Carmel on the first weekend in June.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Home safely and smoothly from Mississippi. 565 miles, about 9.5 hours, including stops. Brenda and I are becoming very fond of Yazoo County, Mississippi, and the people of Trinity Church, Yazoo City. We are treated with exemplary graciousness there. Presided, preached, and confirmed an adult. Two to my left in the photo is Tammy, the confirmand. Between us is Roberta, her best friend, who brought her to Trinity! On my right is Fr George Woodliff, Trinity's rector. On the other end is Jill, his wife.
Trinity Church, Yazoo City, MS--John 13:31-35, Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6
The Church is certainly no stranger to conflict. Do I really need to back up such a statement? It is ridiculously true, even if painfully so. Heck, the very fact that a bishop from Illinois is preaching, celebrating, and confirming at a parish in Mississippi is itself evidence that there is conflict in the church, right? Now, I am not intimately acquainted with all the details of life here at Trinity Church in Yazoo City, but I’ve been around the block enough times to plausibly speculate, at least, that there have from time to time been occasions of conflict right here within the Trinity family—if not at this very moment, then at various times in the past. It may have been over small things, like what kind of flowers to plant in the courtyard or out by the street, or the conflict could have been over something important, like balancing the budget or calling a new rector.
And the Church, of course, has no monopoly on conflict. At every level—local, regional, and national—the Church exists in a secular environment that is perpetually, chronically conflicted. This is a presidential election year, in the thick of a bitterly contested primary season in both parties, and the level of conflict has long since reached the red zone of toxicity. We are, in the words of our Prayer Book in the collect for the Last Sunday after Pentecost—Christ the King—we are “divided and enslaved by sin.”
It has ever been so. In the Apostle Peter’s context, the conflict that commanded his attention was the one between Jew and Gentile. He’s on the roof of the house where he was staying one day, saying his prayers, when he’s drawn into a trance. He sees several animals before him, all of which were in the category that Jewish law considers “unclean,” and therefore not to be eaten. This would have included creatures like pigs, rabbits, any reptile, and any kind of shellfish, among others. Peter then hears a voice commanding him to “Kill and eat.” He immediately protests of course: “No way am I going to eat one of those nasty things!” But the voice he hears is insistent, and finally just point blank tells him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Right then, there was a knock at the door downstairs. Who was at the door? None other than a group of Gentiles, who had seen their own vision, directing them to the house where Peter was staying, where they would hear good news about someone named Jesus, who would be a absolute game-changer in their lives.
And then, for the original readers of the Revelation to St John the Divine, the conflict in front of them was that between a minority of trying-to-be-righteous-in-the-face-of-persecution Christians and a dominant majority of pagan, hedonistic, and just plain cruel Romans. It’s no accident that the most compelling line in today’s second reading talks about Jesus wiping away every tear, because there was no shortage of tears to wipe away among those first century Christians.
We know that the mission of Jesus was and is to be the instrument of God’s sovereign action, God’s determination to “do something” about alienation and conflict at every level—alienation from God, conflict with others, estrangement from our own selves and from the cosmos. That same collect that talks about human beings being “divided and enslaved by sin” goes on to ask God that we may be “freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.” Jesus called together a community of followers whom he charged with being the sourdough starter for his “gracious rule” of reconciliation and love. The Church is the extension into time of that community of disciples. The Greek word that is translated as “church” is ekklesia, and it literally means “called out ones.” Jesus had supper with these original “called out ones” on the night before his death—a supper in which we are about to mystically participate—and he gave them a “new commandment,” that they “love one another as I have loved you,” he says. And why? What is the purpose of this commandment? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Our love for one another within the Church is the authenticating sign of the gospel. Without it, our witness is meaningless, and we are the worst of hypocrites. But if you think that’s severe, there’s this: the paradigm, the model, for the kind of love that Jesus calls us to is his laying-down of his own life.
Now, don’t infer from this that we all have a duty to go out and do whatever it takes to get ourselves crucified, although, if that’s the organic consequence of our following the “new commandment,” then so be it. But it does mean putting ourselves in Peter’s shoes, and rethinking our scruples about being “defiled” by contact with those whom we might be conditioned to consider unworthy of our company. Christian discipleship invites us to see a much, much bigger picture than we otherwise might. And I will say that one of the things I do know about Trinity Church, something that both pleases and humbles me, is the way you have faced right into some of the unsavory aspects of cultural history in places like Mississippi, and embraced the gospel imperative of racial reconciliation. But there’s more; there’s always more.
So, if loving one another—even the strange ones, even the mistaken ones, even the poorly-taught and wrong-headed ones—within the community of the Church is the authenticating sign of the gospel, then what is the authenticating sign of the authenticating sign? How is such love made manifest among us? The way we signal our love for one another, my friends, is by doing what we’re doing right here, right now. We are sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist.
This is why inability to share the Eucharist is the most painful aspect of the divisions among those who profess and call themselves Christians, sometimes even among those who are technically supposed to be in full communion with one another—in our case, even among those who call themselves Anglicans—because we who are supposed to be one for the sake of the world believing that Jesus is the Christ are deprived of the one sign of unity that trumps all others, the very essence of fellowship in Christ, and that is the ability to come together at the altar of God to celebrate the sacrament of our unity with one another in Christ. As long as there are Christians who are not able to come together at the altar, the Body of Christ is disabled, wounded, an inadequate witness to the world. This can happen within a parish community that is hijacked by conflict, and it can certainly happen, as we know all too well, within dioceses and between dioceses, and at a global level.
At every level, conflict and division within the Church are a scandal, because they offer to the world a “false Christ.” They offer to the world an image of a divided Christ when Christ cannot actually be divided. They obscure the truth that, in Christ, God is making all things new. This, indeed is the truth, the sacred and wonderful truth that, in our unreconciled state, we fail to see: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Right here in Yazoo City, the community of Trinity Church has the opportunity to love one another, and thereby be the authenticating sign of the gospel, in this city, in this county, in the Diocese of Mississippi, and across the whole church. And we can begin to claim that opportunity by celebrating this particular Eucharist in this particular place and this particular time.
Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Spent most of the day in the Yazoo City area with the rector of Trinity Church, Fr George Woodliff, and his wife Jill. They drove us a few miles north to the small town of Indianola, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of local cuisine (in my case, catfish, gumbo, and two kinds of corn bread) before taking in the B.B. King museum (the late Blues artist was a native of the area). The evening was spent at the home of some Trinity parishioners, along with the Woodliffs and the parish wardens and their spouses. It was a glorious day--the intense summer heat and humidity have not arrived yet.
Friday, April 22, 2016
This was a travel day: 625 miles in 10 hours of driving, from Kansas City, MO to Yazoo City, MS. Everything went smoothly. We enjoyed traversing some unfamiliar territory, sampled BBQ in both northwestern Arkansas and central Mississippi, and listened to a Cubs victory on MLB Radio. Life is good.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
The day's pattern was quite similar to yesterday's: with the morning dedicated to "critical incident report" sharing. For lunch, we visited a thriving and innovative feeding ministry in downtown Kansas City operated by Episcopal Community Services. It attempts to foster a "dining with dignity" ethos among its clientele of homeless, under-employed, and mentally-challenged guests. Instead of being handed a tray and directed to a line, they are seated by a maitre'd, and order from a simple menu from their tables. Many of those who wait tables and work in the kitchen are getting experience that will help them find employment in the restaurant industry. What an encouraging experience this was. The rest of the afternoon was more or less free, and most of us visited a nearby upscale shopping area. Our farewell dinner was back downtown--for a change of pace, in this red-meat section of the country, at a fine seafood restaurant. Not quite locally-sourced, but delicious nonetheless.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
More "critical incident report" sharing among the bishops, which I always find valuable, whether I'm on the reporting end or the feedback-giving end. In the evening, we all (bishops and spouses) went to Kaufman Stadium to watch the local Kansas City Royals play the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers won, but it was an exciting game up to the last pitch.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Monday, April 18, 2016
This was a nice, pleasant travel day for Brenda and me. We lift Springfield around noon and arrived in Kansas City around 4:45. Here until Friday morning for some Bishops Class of 2011 continuing ed. While the bishops are sharing "critical incident reports" the spouses have their own agenda, both serious and light. Enjoyed a festive dinner at a classic downtown KC steakhouse.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Up and out of my Champaign hotel room in time to show up at St John the Divine at 7:30, ahead of their regular 8am liturgy. Presided and preached--and also read the Gospel and set the table and other things because the rector is hobbling around on crutches, have broken his ankle about 10 days ago. Met between services with four young adult confirmands and one youthful one. The principal liturgy was, as always, musically spectacular; the Chapel drinks deeply from the well of the English cathedral choral and organ tradition. After coffee hour, I met for a while with the vestry to discuss some financial and long-range planning issues. Home a little past 2:30.
Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign--John 10:22-30, Revelation 7:9-17
Even the strongest and most faithful believers in God, as God is understood by traditional Christianity, have moments of doubt. None of us are immune. I hope that doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, and that it might even come as a relief to some. In my own experience, and as I have spoken with others, the seeds of doubt often come in the form of the passing thought, “What if we’re just making all this stuff up? What if all religions, Christianity included, are just various forms of wishful thinking, crutches we lean on because we’re unwilling to face the cold, hard, realities of life?”
When we look at the history of human religious thought and behavior, we might be forgiven for entertaining such moments of doubt, such attitudes of skepticism. Our earliest ancestors had no reasonable explanation for such simple natural occurrences as sunrise and sunset and inclement weather and the change of seasons, so they imagined gods—powerful beings that they couldn’t see, who lived in the heavens, but who were able to affect what happened on the surface of the earth. This is what we might call “god of the gaps” theology—in other words, whenever there’s a gap between something that happens and our understanding of why it happens, we plug God—or a god, as the case may be—into that gap. There’s a thunderstorm? The gods must be bowling. It’s snowing? The gods must be having a pillow fight.
A natural outgrowth and development of “god of the gaps” theology is a view that might be labeled, “the gods must be angry.” Your neighbor gets sick? He must have done something to offend God—or a god. The corn crop fails? We must be praying to the wrong god, or praying to the right god the wrong way, or something. This is where the idea of sacrifice comes from. If we’ve somehow gotten ourselves on God’s bad side, then we need to do something to appease him. This response ranges from tossing a coin or two into the temple offering box to tossing a virgin or two into an erupting volcano. It’s the same concept, carried out in different ways.
About 300 years ago, as modern experimental science was beginning to come into its own, several of the “gaps” that God had previously been required to fill began to close on their own, as rational and scientific explanations appeared for phenomena that had previously been mysteries. So, in an attempt to salvage some dignity for God, to find a way to keep God on the payroll, so to speak, since he had served so well for so long, a kind of theology known as Deism developed. For a Deist, God is sort of like an engineer or inventor, who designs and constructs something, and then steps back and lets it run, without ever interfering or intervening. God is out there somewhere, but he’s an absentee landlord, and not all that interested in what’s going on in the world he made.
As scientific inquiry has progressed, more and more “gaps” have been filled, and it appears at times that even the God of Deism may actually be unemployed. People like Stephen Hawking and the late Carl Sagan and, more recently, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, have popularized a sort of scientific atheism. With the “big bang” theory, God isn’t even strictly necessary to construct the universe before abandoning it, although one could argue that Somebody has to be around to pull the trigger on the Big Bang; apparently there’s still a teeny bit of a “gap” left. But some time ago I saw a science fiction movie on TV where one of the characters had traveled back in time from the future. When someone asked him if anyone in the future believed in God, he said, “No, that all ended in the year 2030, when scientists isolated the ‘religion gene’.” Let’s see, 2030 is what—14 years from now? Fortunately, I’ll be long retired by then.
But even though God may be laid off at the moment, there is still quite a bit of nostalgic attachment to the idea, at least, of God. So, a great many people who are neither atheistic science geeks nor particularly religious in a traditional sense, indulge in a sort of theology that I like to call “sentimental pantheism.” It’s what keeps the greeting card industry profitable—not much of particular substance, but a lot of very sincere emotion, a lot of feeling good about feeling religious, but without very much actual content that might give offense to anyone. God is everywhere and in everything and in everyone. God is whatever and whoever you want God to be. My “God” may not work for you, and your “God” may not work for me, but—hey—as long as we both have a God that “works” for us, what more could we want?
And alongside this sentimental pantheism is a strong current of apathetic agnosticism, made up of people who are just too consumed with partying or hooking up or making a lot of money or drifting down the stream of life doing whatever it is they do to give very much concentrated thought to the deep questions of why we’re here and what comes next and what it all might mean. They’re not religious, not even out of nostalgia or sentiment, but neither are they atheists or otherwise hostile to people of faith.
We all know people in each of the categories I’ve described. At various times, we’ve been in those categories ourselves. But at this moment, we’re in this place, as part of a community that has some specific convictions about God, and stands in a very definite tradition.
We are Christians. We proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will listen. And the essential claim of the gospel is this: Jesus—the man who was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth and who died in Jerusalem, the Christ of the scriptures and creeds, who is the eternal Word of God the Father, who was with God at the moment of creation; who, if anyone pulled the switch on the Big Bang, it was him; the one who was raised from the dead and returned to the nearer presence of the Father and who will return to judge the living and the dead—this Jesus, is the sacrament, the outward sign, the visible human face of God. The essential claim of the gospel is that God has a body; God has a face. When we see Jesus, we see God. When St John’s gospel tells us that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” this is what he meant. Later on, the Church would develop all sorts of doctrinal fine points about the relationship between the divine and the human in Jesus, and those fine points are not at all unimportant or to be dismissed. But at the level we’re dealing with as we look at the pages of the New Testament, it’s not all that sophisticated. What Jesus is saying is as simple as this: “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. I speak God’s words through my teaching and in my interacting with people and as I pronounce God’s forgiveness and bestow God’s peace. I do God’s deeds as I heal the sick and minister to the poor and the marginalized. God cares for you through me; I am the conduit of God’s loving care. God has entrusted you to me as sheep to a shepherd. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. In short, I give you full access to God; when you’ve got me, you’ve got God.” This is the first claim of the gospel: Christ is the human face of God.
The next claim of the gospel is this: the Church is the sacrament of Christ. The Church is that wonderful body of which Christ is the head and all baptized persons are members. It is the whole community of those in every generation and in every nation who have come in faith to the waters of new birth. It is the community of those who live out their common life and mission in ordered relationships, as instituted by Christ himself. According to tradition, the same St John who was an apostle of Jesus also gave us the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation (and it is for that that he is known as St John the Divine—this is, St John the Theologian—the patron of this church.). In our passage this morning from chapter seven of Revelation, we see a vivid word picture of the Church, described as “a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” The Church is the continuing manifestation of the Christ's presence among humankind. The ministry of the incarnate Christ among us was limited to Palestine for a brief period nearly twenty centuries ago. But through the Church, that ministry continues. As Christ speaks and acts for God, so the Church speaks and acts for Christ—forgiving sins, healing the sick, bestowing peace, ministering to the poor and marginalized, announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God is near. We would do well to train ourselves to think of Christian congregations, including this one, as “embassies” of Heaven on earth. You know how embassies work, right? The U.S. embassy in Nairobi, for instance, is a bit of sovereign American soil in Kenya, just as the Kenyan embassy in Washington is a bit of sovereign Kenyan soil in America. When we come to the Church—including a consecrated church building, to be sure, but, more significantly, the worshipping community that inhabits the building—when we come to the Church, when anyone comes to us as the Church, we know we are on heavenly soil, holy ground, a piece of “home” away from home.
As the Word is preached and taught, as the sacraments are administered, we know that we are meeting the living Christ in all the power of his ministry and all the tenderness of his pastoral care. And as we see Jesus as we see the Church, we are seeing the glory of God himself—not the God of human invention, the God of the gaps, the capricious and vengeful God of our own imagination, not the absent God of Deism or the harmless God of sentimental pantheism, but the God who has shown himself to us in Jesus. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
- Usual Saturday leisurely morning.
- Took about a 90 minute walk on a gorgeous morning.
- With a televised Cubs game as a backdrop, worked on four loads of laundry, and refined and printed my homily for next Sunday (not tomorrow), since I won't be back in the office before then.
- Took care of a couple of administrative chores via email.
- After dinner, packed and hit the road for Champaign, ahead of tomorrow's visitation to the Chapel of St John the Divine.
Friday, April 15, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on an item of mission strategy.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
- Got distracted by and lost a bunch of time to a pretty serious attempt at email fraud--this time involving my diocesan account. This attempt was fairly sophisticated, but no sophisticated enough, and no real damage was done, though the attempt involved stealing real money.
- Dealt with an issue pertaining to clergy deployment in one of our parishes in transition.
- Celebrated and preached the noon Mass (ferial Friday in week of Easter III).
- Chinese lunch from HyVee, eaten at home.
- Back to the email fraud for a bit, then devoted the bulk of the afternoon to taking a developed outline for a sermon on Easter V to the rough draft stage.
- Worked some more on the teaching document on ministry that I referenced yesterday.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on some of the details of an upcoming ordination.
- Conferred with the administrator on some ... well, administrative issues.
- Hunted for some photos to send to the author of the "interview" article that I worked on yesterday. This was a dangerous endeavor, as it was easy to get distracted looking at pictures that were not germane to my mission.
- Developed my homiletical message statement for Easter VII (Harrisburg and West Frankfort) into an outline from which I can create a draft the next time I work on it.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Processed a stack of emails.
- Took a prayerful first pass at the readings for Proper 5, in preparation for preaching on them at a weekend trifecta--Robinson, Albion, and Mt Carmel--on the first weekend in June.
- Continued working on a pastoral guide to ministry--lay and ordained. This started out as a policy statement on the diaconate, but in the process of vetting it, it has seemed good to contextualize it but writing about presbyteral, episcopal, and lay ministry as well.
- Prayed the evening office in the cathedral, but about an hour earlier than usual, owing to ...
- ... an appointment with a layperson--a first interview to discuss discernment for ordination to the priesthood.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Out of an abundance of caution, in search of the root cause of my recently-diagnosed anemia, my morning was dedicated to letting the medical establishment have a good look at my entire G-I tract, upper and lower. I slept through it all, and they didn't offer me a DVD. The results are negative ... which is positive, if you know what I mean. I was home by noon, and spent the rest of the day in my recliner, gradually shaking off anesthesia, processing a few emails, and doing an "interview" with the editor of a para-church periodical. During the evening, between innings of a Cubs game, I actually developed a homiletical message statement into a rough outline (Easter VI at Redeemer, Cairo).
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
- Devotions in the cathedral, Morning Prayer in the office.
- Sat down with Sue to review the proposed contract with our new database software provider in advance of a conference call.
- Attended to some logistical issues pertaining to an upcoming ordination.
- Got with Sue again, this time to look over the proposals she has gathered for the purchase of new office equipment: computers, wifi upgrade, and a network copier/printer/scanner.
- Participated in the conference call with our database provider. Resolved our questions and agreed on a plan going forward.
- Made some final tweaks, formatted, and printed my homily for this Sunday (Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign).
- Went home as if for lunch, though I couldn't actually have lunch, owing to the need to fast in preparation for a medical screening procedure tomorrow morning. From a mental health standpoint, it just seemed good to break up the day in a familiar manner.
- Responded one by one to a fairly substantial stack of tasks generated by emails--i.e. stuff from before today already in the queue.
- Spent some prayerful time with the readings, and commentaries thereon, for Trinity Sunday, in initial preparation for preaching on that feast at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
- Left the office a bit early in order to go home and take some prescribed medication at a prescribed time--again, in preparation for tomorrow morning's tests.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Up and out of our Champaign hotel room in order to be back at Emmanuel in time to preside and preach at the regular 8am said Rite I Eucharist. All went smoothly. Between services, I met with the five adult confirmands for some last-minute catechesis on the vows they would be taking. There was also a baptism at the 10am Mass, and the whole thing was lovely. It's a treat for me to have the "big church" experience from time to time; the music at Emmanuel is ... awesome. Following coffee hour, Brenda and I walked about three blocks through downtown Champaign for lunch with the rector and deacon and their spouses. Home around 3:30.
Emmanuel, Champaign--Acts 9:1-19a
During these Sundays after Easter, the first reading is always from the Acts of the Apostles, taking the place of the Old Testament reading that usually goes in that spot. Last week, we encountered the incredible thick-headedness of Peter and the other apostles. They were thrown in jail for talking about Jesus and healing people in the name of Jesus and generally insisting that Jesus was risen from the dead and now ascended back into Heaven, from whence he had come. But in the middle of the night, the angel of the Lord let them out of jail. And what did they do then? They went right back to talking about Jesus—this time, right in the Temple, right under the noses of the authorities. And we saw in their behavior a model for a mission-driven church: A mission-driven church takes the battle right into the adversary’s home turf. A mission-driven church doesn’t react; it acts.
Today, we have an equally dramatic and rich narrative from Acts to delve into. It’s the familiar story of a devout Jew named Saul. Saul is a Pharisee, a member of a privileged sector of Jewish society. He is zealous for the honor and integrity of Jewish religion. He would have been among those who supported the demands of the authorities that the apostles get over their obsession with Jesus, and go back to Galilee and take up fishing again. He was present when Stephen was stoned to death, holding the coats of those who were tossing the rocks. We find Saul today, in the ninth chapter of Acts, on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus—the same ancient city that is the capital of Syria today. He’s on a mission. The purpose of his trip is to round up as many Christians as he can find and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment.
But, as we know, a funny thing happened to Saul on his way to Damascus. The risen Jesus appeared to him in the midst of a blinding light and a voice from the sky. Jesus simply informed Saul—didn’t invite, didn’t ask permission, just informed—Jesus informed Saul that he was going to start playing for the other team, and, in fact, become one of the key movers and shakers in the spread of Christianity.
When I discovered major league baseball in the summer of 1962, just before my eleventh birthday, I developed a particular attachment to the particular players who played for my team, the Chicago Cubs. I can still tell you the names in the starting lineup and the pitching staff of that team. So it was difficult for me to wrap my mind around the concept that teams would sometimes trade players, one for another. (Mercifully, this was long before the days of free agency, which still makes me cringe.) I mean, how can you be giving it your all for the Yankees one day, learn you’ve been traded, and be giving it your all for the Red Sox the next day? There are actually stories of players being traded between games of a double header. It didn’t seem quite right to me. But, believe me, that’s nothing compared to what Saul went through. He was an avid persecutor of the church one day, and being baptized the next. And soon thereafter, using the Greco-Latin version of his name—Paul—he was well on his way toward becoming the single most influential Christian there has ever been.
But it was never an easy journey for Paul, was it? He would go on to suffer misunderstanding from his fellow Jews, disputes with his Christian colleagues, beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, and finally execution at the hands of the Roman government. But I doubt that any of this came as a surprise to Paul. At least it didn’t to the first Christian who ever ministered to him, the one who was his “handler,” so to speak, in the process of his defection, a man named Ananias. Ananias required some convincing before he agreed to take on such a role. Saul’s reputation had preceded him to Damascus, and Ananias didn’t fancy being hauled back to Jerusalem in handcuffs. So the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision and said, “Go, for [Saul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” In others words, “It’s OK. He’s been traded. He’s on the same team with you now.” And then he added this little bit, which almost seems like an afterthought, except that when we stop to ponder it, it sheds a whole different light on the entire situation: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Apparently, God had never heard the expression, “Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative.” God didn’t know the first thing about spin control. “For I will show him how much he must suffer for sake of my name.” Saul wasn’t being recruited; he was being drafted! He was effectively being dragooned, impressed into service, by God. There was a war going on: A war against the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, a war against the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, a war against a whole range of sinful desires that draw men and women and children away from the love of God. God wanted to deploy the most talented and capable leadership into the battlefields of that war. Of course, war is risky business. There are casualties. People get wounded and killed. So it’s appropriate that, at some point, God get realistic with Saul about what to expect. But, as he explains the situation to Ananias, the Lord never says “Saul might suffer” or even “Saul will suffer.” It’s not merely a possibility, nor is it simply a certainty. It’s a necessity. “For I will show him how much he must suffer for sake of my name.”
Suffering, it appears, is not merely incidental to the pursuit of Christian mission. It’s not just a by-product of faithfulness to the gospel call to follow and obey Christ. It’s counter-intuitive, I realize, and difficult to wrap our minds around, but somehow suffering is an instrumental component of effective mission. Any war produces casualties, but casualties are considered tragic nonetheless, and every effort is made to minimize them. That’s why, ever since the invention of the spear, the evolution of military technology is a series of attempts to inflict damage on the enemy at a distance, so as to not put one’s own personnel at risk. But in the war that we are engaged in on behalf of the Kingdom of God, casualties are not just a necessary evil. They are the very links in that chain that leads to victory.
In the early 1990s, I served a small mission congregation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We had in that congregation a fifteen-year old boy named Jamey. Jamey and his mother and his two siblings were stalwarts in the parish; all three of the kids served regularly as acolytes. Early one evening, Jamey was riding his bicycle while running an errand for his younger sister. He was hit by a car, suffered a massive closed head injury, and a couple of days later became a multiple organ donor. It was a horrible tragedy. But in the wake of that tragedy, Jamey’s father, who was an alcoholic very much not in recovery, who had nothing to do with the church or with any practice of Christian faith, and was not much of a presence to his family—Jamey’s father turned his life around, by the grace of God. He got sober, and came to a living faith in Christ, and he is still a faithful Christian disciple 25 years later. And in the parish I served in California for 13 years, there was a woman whose experience of the illness and death of a brother was the occasion for a spiritual rebirth that has yielded abundant fruit over a period of several years. We could probably spend the rest of the day telling and cataloging such stories. They are the very building blocks of the church’s life and witness. Does God send or cause these tragedies in order to save those who are left behind? Heavens, no. But the God whom we serve is a master at exploiting the awful things that happen to us and turning them to good.
“For I will show him how much he must suffer for sake of my name.” Today we’re doing some baptizing and confirming. After I lay hands on each of the candidates and pray over them, I will then symbolically slap each of them on the cheek. It won’t be enough to knock them over or leave any marks, so there will be no actual violence done! But it’s a tradition that is meant to be a reminder that to take the vows of a Christian disciple—which is exactly what we do when we’re baptized or confirmed—to take the vows of a Christian disciple is to lay oneself open to a kind of suffering that is not otherwise necessary. It is to express a certain degree of solidarity with Saul on the road to Damascus, to allow ourselves to be blinded and overcome by the light of the presence of the risen Christ in our lives, to hear his voice conscripting us into service, and to show ourselves ready to learn how much we must suffer for the sake of his name.
Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Indulged myself with a leisurely morning. Gradually revved up to a treadmill workout and some email processing before lunch. Afterward, I attacked a couple of routine personal organization chores. Then it was time to get dressed and packed and on the road at 3:45, headed east. Arrived at Emmanuel, Champaign in time for a 5:30 supper--meat provided by Black Dog BBQ (the best around), the rest catered. It was a virtual capacity crowd in the parish hall, and wonderfully age-diverse. During dessert, I held forth on the Seven Habits of Well-Formed Christian Disciples. Looking forward to the full morning, with two liturgies, one baptism and a handful of confirmations.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Difficult getting traction on my to-do list because emails kept slipping in, of a sort that either could be dealt with relatively quickly or needed to be dealt with promptly (even if not relatively quickly).
- Dealt by email (one already in the queue) with ongoing issues pertaining to one of our parishes in transition.
- Sent via email an invitation to a retired priest of the diocese to preach at the institution of the new rector of Alton on 21 May.
- Once again sat prayerfully for a good while with a set of eucharistic propers--this time those of Easter VII--until a message statement emerged. This message statement will get developed and eventually preached at St Stephen's, Harrisburg and St Mark's, West Frankfort.
- Walked briskly on a brisk day to Incredibly Delicious, on the 900 block of South Seventh Street, to have lunch with Bishop John Roth, my ELCA counterpart, and a valued friend.
- Got back to an empty office (Sue had gone home sick and the Archdeacon was taking his son on college visits), and dealt with the emails that had trickled in while I was at lunch.
- Spent the rest of the afternoon drafting my soon-due post for the Covenant blog. It's a reflective piece on my episcopate now being "middle-aged."
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
- Customary Thursday morning appointment with my basement treadmill.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Dealt with a couple of issues related to my May 1 visitation to Redeemer, Cairo.
- Faithfully read a resolution of the Episcopal Church's Executive Committee that the Secretary of General Convention was required to transmit to all diocesan bishops.
- Sat with my exegetical notes on the propers for Easter VI until they yielded a message statement from which I can now construct a sermon.
- Processed a stack of emails--some in the queue as tasks from prior days, some fresh today (the stream is ever-flowing).
- Prepared for a brief presentation I'm set to give at Emmanuel, Champaign this Saturday evening.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Attended to a couple of tasks related to my membership on the board of Forward Movement.
- Responded substantively to an email from a lay communicant of the diocese.
- Read and responded to an unsolicited, non-mandatory, but greatly appreciated annual report from a priest of the diocese on how things are going in his parish ministry. Dare I say that I would be well-pleased should more of his colleagues would follow his example?
- Cleared a mountain of hard-copy materials that have accumulated on my desk over the past several weeks (mostly newsletters/magazines from other dioceses and church-related institutions), then scanned and disposed of smaller and looser hard-copy materials from my physical inbox.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared to preside and preach at the midday liturgy.
- Dealt with an administrative issue pertaining to one of our Eucharistic Communities in transition.
- Attended to some details pertaining to my visitation to Emmanuel, Champaign this weekend.
- Spent the rest of the morning developing my homiletical message statement for Easter V into a detailed outline.
- Celebrated and preached the noon Mass in the cathedral chapel (Easter feria).
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Processed a short stack of emails.
- Paid attention to developing the details of the liturgy at which we expect to ordain David Wells to the priesthood on May 14.
- Wrote a snail mail letter in response to one in the same genre from a lay communicant in the diocese.
- Mopped up some residual Nashotah business left in the wake of yesterday's Directors conference call.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Back in harness after a much-needed and much-appreciated "down" weekend with Brenda in Florida. 58 action items on the radar for this week.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Administrator over some details of our impending adoption of database software, and impending purchase of a new network copier/printer.
- Reviewed and proposed a tweak to the bulletin for my visit to Emmanuel, Champaign this Sunday.
- Took care of some administrative details pertaining to one of our seminarians.
- Refined and printed a working script for Sunday's sermon.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- Got mentally and technologically organized for a Nashotah Board of Directors conference call.
- Presided over a two-hour conference call. It was productive and irenic, but, nonetheless, mentally and emotionally taxing.
- Processed a moderate stack of emails.
- Disassembled and reassembled a homily for Easter IV from a prior year, repurposing it for use at the Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.