Sunday, January 31, 2016
Out the door solo just past 7:00am, headed east. Rolled into the parking lot at St Christopher's, Rantoul about two hours later, allowing some time to chat a bit with Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley before the regular 9:30am Eucharist. This community exemplifies all the textbook marks of the "family" church size category, and, among those marks are some very fine ones. God the worshiped, good news was proclaimed, and the Paschal Mystery was celebrated. I arrived back home around 1:00, and persuaded Brenda to accompany me on a brisk walk on this beautiful spring afternoon---on January 31!
St Christopher's, Rantoul--Luke 4:21-32
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I took water for granted. Every city or village had its own iconic water tower, and it never occurred to me to wonder very much how the water got there. All I knew was, I turned on a tap, and out came clean drinkable water. When I went out to southern California for college, and then, seven years later moving to Oregon in the middle of a drought, and encountering prayers for rain when I went to church on Sunday, my awareness was raised. Water is a precious commodity, and it’s not just automatically available. They’re having a wet winter in California so far this year, which is welcome, but even that won’t be enough to officially break the drought.
Water, like fire, is absolutely essential to our lives, but has the potential to put our lives in danger as well. It has tremendous power, and often, it seems, a veritable will of its own that can triumph over the most ingenious of human devices. I have often observed, with fascination, while hosing off a driveway or watering a garden, how water is determined to find the quickest and most efficient route downhill to the sea. If it can move a leaf or a twig or a pebble or a log out of its way, it will. If water can’t move an obstacle in its path, it will break it apart. And if it can’t break it apart, it will wear it down. And in the meantime, it will go around it. If water finds a low spot, it will settle there and form a puddle or a lake. But the second it rises above the low spot, it seizes the opportunity to resume its relentless downhill journey to sea level. Since water is both dangerous and necessary, human beings try to find ways of taking advantage of the fact that it will do what it will do. We build levees and dams to keep water out of populated areas. Or we dredge channels and dig reservoirs to deepen and collect water for human use.
What a wonderful metaphor water is for the way we experience God. God is absolutely essential to human life; he holds each of our lives in the balance every second of every day. He can sometimes be a nuisance. And his power cannot be resisted; he will flow where he will flow. But the human race has learned ways of shielding itself from God when we think he might be a bother and we’d prefer not to deal with him. We have become adept at building spiritual levees and dams that “protect” us from God. Consciously or unconsciously, we do things that block the effect on our lives of God’s power and presence.
And this is exactly what the people of the village of Nazareth were doing when Jesus came to pay a visit on his hometown. You will recall, last week we read “part one” of the story of this visit as recorded for us by St Luke, and today we read the conclusion. Jesus shows up in the synagogue, and reads a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah about captives being set free and the blind recovering their sight and good news being proclaimed to the oppressed. Then he sits down and calmly declares that he is, in his own person, the fulfillment of this passage.
At first, the folks were kind of proud of a hometown boy who made good on the outside. But then the implications of what he is saying begin to sink in, and their pride turns to anger. “Wait a minute! We know this kid. We watched him grow up, just down the street; his dad was a carpenter. He’s a nice kid, but let’s get real — Messiah material he’s not! If he thinks he’s such hot stuff, why doesn’t he do one of those miracles here like he’s been doing in other places, huh?!” But they didn’t really want Jesus to perform a miracle. They just wanted to trivialize and marginalize him, to blow him off. Jesus was so familiar to them that they could not accept him as he really was.
You and I are by no means immune from similar behavior. We might not have watched Jesus grow up in the house down the block, but he is surely a familiar enough name and personality — certainly if we ourselves were raised in the church. The people of Nazareth were so familiar with Jesus that they couldn’t stand the idea of him actually affecting and changing their lives. So they tried to do away with him by throwing him off a cliff.
We may not be quite so bold, but we do nevertheless try to “tame” Jesus, the way a dam “tames” a wild river. We build levees to keep him where we can see him, but from a safe vantage point, without running the risk of having him flood our lives. If we let Jesus flood our lives, then we may actually have to change something. We may have to break a bad habit or two, or cultivate a couple of good ones. We may have to deal honestly with our own “pet” sins, the petty grudges and prejudices that we nurse along and rationalize because they make us feel so good. We may have to look at our politics in the light of the gospel, rather than interpreting the gospel in the light of our politics. We may need to do something about the clear teaching of scripture that the water of baptism is thicker than the blood of any human family ties, that the church is our family, and we are called to relate to that family with intense loyalty and affection. We may need to change a whole l0t of our priorities. All this and more may happen if we let Jesus flood our lives. So we invest appropriate energy in protecting the integrity of our dams and levees, and, if necessary, pile on sandbags.
But water, as we know, will go where it will go. If it is blocked in one place, it will find an alternate route. And Jesus, who is himself the water of life, will flow where he will flow. If he is blocked at Nazareth, he can always go to Capernaum. And if he is blocked in Israel, he can always go to the Gentiles. What really got the Nazarenes worked up was when Jesus made reference to two examples from the history of Israel when God revealed himself to and through Gentiles: when a hungry prophet Elijah was miraculously fed by a poor widow in the neighboring land of Zarapheth, and when Elijah’s successor, Elisha, was used by God to heal Naaman, a Syrian army commander, of leprosy. The implication was that Jesus was not going to let himself be restricted by the dams and levees built by the citizens of Nazareth, or by the nation of Israel.
Neither will he be restricted by the dams and levees that we put up. The living water will seek out thirsty ground. If I put up a dam, Jesus will work on wearing me down, but in the meantime, he will flow on by me to you, and to the next person. If St Christopher’s puts up a levee, Jesus will flow on down to Emmanuel and St John the Divine and Holy Trinity. If the Episcopal Church in the United States isn’t ready to receive the ministry of Christ, he will spend that energy elsewhere, like, say, Tanzania. I visited seven churches in seven days in the Diocese of Tabora in 2013, and I’m still fairly sure I’ve confirmed more people there than I have within the Diocese of Springfield! Maybe Africa is to us what Capernaum was to Nazareth.
Jesus is motivated by his relentless active love for those who are weighed down by the stresses and anxieties of this life, those who are prisoners of the power of sin, those who are blind to any hope for the future. He will find the most direct and efficient route there is to those who are ready to receive his love, those who are ready to accept his ministry. Like a roaring wave, Jesus will sometimes crash through the barriers that we erect. But he will not flow uphill. Water doesn’t flow uphill. Jesus will not forcibly invade the hearts of those who do not recognize their need for him and have no desire for him. He will just move on to the next town, to Capernaum, where his ministry is received joyfully.
But how much better it is not to build barriers — dams and levees — in the first place. How much better it is, instead, to dredge channels and dig reservoirs, to invite Jesus to flow and to fill and, indeed, to flood our lives with his love. We dredge channels for living water when we are faithful in Sunday and holy day worship, when daily prayer is one of the habits of our heart. We dig reservoirs for the water of life when we study the scriptures and commit ourselves to a life of service within the community of the church. For excess winter rain, dams and levees are a good idea, as our brothers and sisters in the southern part of the diocese found out about a month ago. But with the wild and untamed ministry of the son of God, they don’t work so well. There’s no use trying to tame Jesus. He won’t be tamed. If we allow him to flow freely, it may be a wild ride at times, but we won’t drown. On the way, we will see some marvelous signs and wonders, as the people at Capernaum did. And in the end, we will be restored to health and life and wholeness. It’s a ride I do not want to miss. Praised be Jesus, Christ. Amen.
Friday, January 29, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the office (workers in the church).
- Consulted with the Archdeacon on an administrative/pastoral matter, then followed up on it with an email.
- Spoke by phone with a representative of a church software firm. Still on the hunt for a database system.
- Spent the rest of the morning getting service leaflets ready for the clergy retreat. This involved copying, pasting, editing, printing, cutting, punching, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, and then some. But I think it's done.
- Presided at a sort of "sung Low Mass" in the cathedral chapel in anticipation of the feast (actually tomorrow) of Charles Stuart, King and Martyr.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Yes, there was still some detritus to take care of from the service leaflet prep.
- Made air travel and lodging arrangements for a short trip to NYC next month that has arisen rather suddenly.
- Rehabbed the text of an old homily for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany for use this year at Holy Trinity, Danville.
- Friday prayer: the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
I chanced upon the Bishops of Northern Indiana and Missouri for breakfast in the Marriott O'Hare restaurant before the whole group of Province V bishops convened at 8:30. Discussion of a range of concerns (including the Primates' Meeting, goings-on at 815, sacramental practice, policies around confirmation, general church structure, and ecumenical relations) was substantive, but we completed our agenda in a little over two hours, and brought our meeting to a close. I retraced my steps from yesterday, catching the Blue Line train just a few yards from the hotel. Having a little time to kill, I scouted out one of my favorite Chicago eateries (a sort of pub called the Elephant & Castle, an iteration of an actual pub by that name in London), and enjoyed a "boar burger" for lunch. This was on Wabash just north of Lake, so it was a bit of a hike to Union Station, where I arrived in plenty of time for my 1:45 departure on Amtrak's "Texas Eagle," which goes all the way to Los Angeles via San Antonio, and is probably somewhere in Arkansas at this hour. I was glad to join it for only a short portion of its journey. We pulled into Springfield about 20 minutes after our 5:15 scheduled arrival, and I was glad to get home.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Up at 0-dark-thirty to catch the 6:32am Amtrak Lincoln Service Train 300 from Springfield to Chicago. It was on time. Until after Bloomington-Normal I was pretty zoned out, but eventually work up enough to pray the morning office and then connect to the internet for a bit of actual work (honing my Advent Quiet Day talks for a written medium, processing email). Upon arrival at Union Station, I walked the several blocks east, picked up the CTA Blue Line and rode it out nearly to O'Hare, exiting at the Cumberland stop, near the Marriott O'Hare. At noon, I joined by colleague bishops from Province V for lunch, and then spent the afternoon in our annual-ish meeting. We spent a good chunk of time just "checking in" about how things are going for each of us personally and professionally, which is, in my opinion, a wholesome, almost necessary, exercise. Most of the rest of our afternoon was spent in conversation with two executives from the Church Pension Group. They were soliciting our feedback on some tweaks they are considering to the details of the pension plan for clergy. Most of us then shared drinks and dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
- Weekly task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Sent some emails and left some voicemails all in an effort to do what I can to see that as many of our communities as possible have a proper liturgy on Ash Wednesday. We currently have seven parishes without a permanent assigned priest, and two more whose priest is laid up. As a result, two that might have gone without are now covered, one of them by YFNB.
- Spoke by phone with a representative of a company that contracts with church management software vendors to help potential customers search the rather large field of options. We remain in the market for a reasonably-priced database system that can also handle online event registration and payment.
- Produced rough drafts of the leaflets for the two evensongs that will be offered at the clergy retreat next week.
- Went to work on the draft of my homily for this Sunday (St Christopher's,Rantoul), eventually yielding a hard copy printout of my working script. As always, the text itself will magically show up somewhere in this cyber-vicinity around 9:30 Sunday morning.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- With interruptions to handle a mini-flurry of emails, I privately brainstormed ways to up our game in the area of communication. The need to do that was one of the major takeaways from a special meeting a couple of weeks ago with some key lay and ordained leaders in the diocese. We met to talk about the budget process, but everything ended up pointing to communication as our weakest link. So we need to do better. Stuff is now in the pipeline.
- After keeping afloat in the task queue for a matter of months now, I finally tackled a technical issue that was keeping some of the items in the section of the website the offers alternatives to the Prayer Book forms for the Prayers of the People (something completely licit) from appearing properly. They now appear properly.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral. It's nice not to do it in complete darkness anymore. The days are getting longer, and light still glows from the clerestory windows at 5:30.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
I intentionally put my closer-in visitation in the dead of winter, because ... you know ... who wants to get snowed in in Albion when you don't live in Albion, right? So it was Jacksonville today, which meant Lady Brenda and I had a humane leaving time of 9:00am. It was good being with the people of Trinity as they embrace the challenge of the first transition in clergy leadership in 18 years. Next Sunday is Fr Ashmore's last with them. So, after Mass, we had a plenary time in the parish hall talking about all that lies before them.
Trinity, Jacksonville--Luke 4:14-21
Every year, toward the end of the year, the various news outlets publish lists of celebrities who died during that year. Whenever I read these lists, I come away wondering whether there are any famous people left alive! Seeing all the names in one place is staggering. I find myself particularly sobered when the cause of death is suicide. I don’t think there were any top-tier suicides in 2015, but 2014 had one that many people found shattering: Robin Williams—an immensely talented actor and comedian, with an astonishingly distinguished body of work, seemingly at the top of his game, with the wind at his back. I don’t know all the details, but when a man takes his own life, you have to assume that he was in some profound pain. He must have felt somehow so oppressed, so afflicted, so trapped by the circumstances and conditions of his life, and so blind to any source of hope, that the option of suicide seemed preferable to living one more day.
The great majority of us, of course, will leave this world other than by our own hand. In that detail, we differ from Robin Williams. But that difference is only one of degree, not of kind. We are all afflicted, oppressed, and feel ourselves to be trapped by one thing or another, and blind to the potential for positive change. Many of us in affluent North America feel trapped by eating habits that include way too much food that jeopardizes our health. Many others are trapped by a compulsive attachment to work that robs us of family relationships and drives us to an early grave. Even more, perhaps, are trapped by the need to make a living, even though at times it means persisting in work that is boring and meaningless at best, and frequently dangerous and repulsive. More of us than we would care to admit are trapped in marital and family dysfunction that there seems no way out of. If the popular media are to be believed, depression is virtually epidemic in our society, and all of us, of course, are getting older every day, trapped in bodies that will gradually decay until they just quit working. And often we hasten the decay of our bodies through addiction to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, or whatever. We are trapped by the very limitations of our unique personalities: those who are emotionally in tune with their experience wish they could be more disciplined and objective; those who are cool and rational wish they could express their feelings more freely. The truth is, there is heartache aplenty to go around, isn’t there? Some of it is profound and some of it is trivial. Some of it is temporary and some of it is permanent. But all of it makes us feel trapped. All of it robs us of our capacity to see possibilities for positive change, reasons to keep hope alive. The description of human life as “nasty, brutish, and short” that was first applied to the Dark Ages seems equally applicable to our own experience.
Luke’s gospel places the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in his home town of Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath, and Jesus, like the good observant Jew that he is, attends the synagogue. It was the custom in synagogue worship that any adult male—that is any male who’d had his bar mitzvah—could be asked to read the scripture lessons and then comment on them in a brief homily, an impromptu sermon. (Would it not be interesting if we had that custom in the church? But I digress!) On that occasion Jesus was handed the scroll which contained what we would call the Book of Isaiah. It was a short selection, only three verses, a passage that had originally been written to encourage the Jews who felt themselves trapped in Babylon, exiled far from their homeland, and longing to return.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
When he finished reading, Jesus sat down, as was the custom, to deliver his homily, and it was even shorter than the reading! All he said was, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was declaring himself to be the agent of change—change for the better. Jesus is not just news; Jesus is good news—good news to all who feel themselves afflicted or trapped. Jesus is about release from captivity to addictions and compulsions. Jesus is about freedom from the dehumanizing expectations that others put on us and we put on ourselves, expectations that our worth is found in how we look or what condition our body is in or how much money we have or how smart we are. Jesus is about recovery: recovery of sight, recovery of hope, recovery of purposeful living under the gracious rule of God. Jesus wants to lift our burdens, set us free, and open our eyes. He wants to deal with my poverty, my captivity, and my blindness; your poverty, your captivity, and your blindness. Paine Webber used to advertise that they make money for “one investor at a time.” Well, Jesus was their inspiration, because he wants to change our lives, one sinner at a time.
The heavier our burdens are and the more profound our blindness is, of course, the more spectacular is the redeeming work of Christ. If the legend is true that Mary Magdalene was a practitioner of the world’s oldest profession, then how marvelous it is that after meeting Jesus her life was so changed that she was one of the first witnesses of the resurrection and we now call her a saint and put her in stained glass windows. Saul of Tarsus was a fire-breathing persecutor of Christians until he met the risen Christ one day on the road to Damascus, and his life was altered at its very foundation, and he became the St Paul whose conversion we remember liturgically tomorrow. Augustine of Hippo was a wild-living party animal, dissipating his life in sexual frenzy and undisciplined philosophical speculation until, through the persistent prayers of his holy mother Monnica, he met Jesus, and he became a bishop and the greatest influence on Christian thought after St Paul himself. John Newton was an English slave trader in the eighteenth century until he met Jesus and his life was changed so profoundly that he wrote the lines “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Charles Colson was a cynical and hard-driving aide to President Nixon, publicly boasting that he would walk over his own grandmother if he would benefit from it. He was deeply involved in the immorality of the Watergate scandal and did some prison time as a result. While there, he met Jesus. The federal government eventually set Charles Colson free from that prison, but it was Jesus who set him free from his interior prison and called him to a dynamic ministry within the Body of Christ. There are thousands upon thousands of such stories of men and women and young people whose lives are turned up on end after encountering Christ. Maybe you personally know some of them. Maybe one of them is your story! Jesus doesn’t want to just “help” us. Jesus wants to liberate us by changing us from within.
Those most to be pitied are perhaps the ones whose burdens are comparatively light, whose prison is minimum security, whose blindness is only partial. If you are crushed by life, there is no question about relying on your own resources. You know you need, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, a "higher power." But if life is not devastating, just irritating, if our sins are just garden variety, and rather dull, we can easily be seduced by the notion that all we need is a helping hand, a little assistance. It's easy for Anglicans, in particular, to get the wrong impression from Prayer Book language that asks God "so to assist us with thy grace,” as we will pray after communion. At the beginning of a day's hike, rested from a night's sleep and nourished by a hearty breakfast, a thirty-pound backpack may not seem like that much of a burden. With a little assistance from time to time, we’ll be just fine. We put it on with a smile, and set out confidently, arrogantly. But in the heat of the day, when we're hungry and thirsty and fatigued, it may as well be a ton of bricks. The good news today is that Jesus isn't very interested in the size of our burden; he only wants to lift it. Jesus doesn't care much about the security rating of our imprisonment; he only wants to set us free. Jesus isn't all that concerned about the degree of our blindness; he just wants to restore our sight.
Are you dejected and depressed today? Jesus has good news for you. Are you held captive by something over which you are powerless? Jesus wants to release you. Are you oppressed by a burden you cannot bear? Jesus wants to lift that burden from your back. Have you lost sight of who you are and what your purpose in this life is? Jesus wants to restore your sight. This is all risky business, you know. When we turn our lives over to Jesus, nothing is ever the same. When we invite him inside the door, he cleans house. Some of what he finds he'll want to throw out. He will doubtless want to re-arrange the furniture. We will not necessarily find it easy or pleasant. But it will be worth it. Generation upon generation of saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs tell us that it is worth it.
When we place the bread and wine on the altar a few minutes from now, place yourself there also. As we break the bread and pour out the wine, tell Jesus that you are willing to be broken and poured out by him and for his sake. What do you have to lose: you're already broken and poured out; it may as well be done his way. Then, when you reach across in the communion rail into Heaven itself to receive the gifts of God for the people of God, know that you have been broken only in order to be made whole. Know that in that sacrament, you are receiving gospel-proclaiming, prisoner-releasing, sight-restoring grace, grace that will change your life forever.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Friday, January 22, 2016
- Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Read, analyzed, and responded to an email from the cathedral Provost about the rota for weekday Masses. I'm usually good for Wednesdays ... except when I'm not. Anyway, several Wednesdays between now and Holy Week are in my calendar.
- Arranged for a message to be sent to clergy (plus one lay person) in charge of Eucharistic Communities publicizing an upcoming conference on a subject that should be of interest to all in parish ministry.
- Performed a regularly-scheduled (quarterly) personal audit of the implementation of our diocesan mission strategy. There is a need to balance patience with proactivity. There are some bright spots, some signs of steady but slow progress, and some disappointments. We forge ahead.
- Scanned and otherwise disposed of the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox. A necessary regular chore.
- Lunch from Hardee's, eaten at home.
- Processed a short stack of emails.
- Tackled a project that has been long-deferred because it's not all that urgent, and never will be. But it struck me as time to connect a pair of speakers to a tuner/amplifier, all of which I brought from home, where they are now redundant. It's nice to now be able to listen to music on something of higher quality than my laptop's audio system.
- Began revising my working notes from the Advent Quiet Day I gave in Providence, Rhode Island last month in order to put them in publishable (read: bloggable) form.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral, in the midst of which I engaged in an Ignatian-style meditation on the day's daily office gospel reading, the middle section of Our Lord's encounter with the Samaritan woman in John's gospel.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
- Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill workout.
- Morning Prayer at home.
- Processed a bevy of emails, took care of a small but important Nashotah-related task. At the office around 10.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon on an administrative matter and followed through with an email.
- Moved the clergy retreat liturgy planning ball several yards down the field.
- Caught up with some reading connected with my membership on the board of Forward Movement.
- Reviewed some documents in preparation for an afternoon conference call of the Nashotah House Board of Directors
- Took a phone call from Susan Park, who served with her husband for several years as a missionary in Peru, concerning some development there. (Springfield has a companion diocese relationship with Peru.)
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Made final preparations for and then chaired a 75-minute conference-call meeting of the Nashotah House Board of Directors. Our task consisted of the annual review of the Dean's performance.
- Followed up the meeting with a detailed summary via email to members of the board. This kind of thing is very draining to me, so I waked a few laps around the Roundhouse rotunda.
- Took a reasonably close fly-by of the Episcopal Church's Title IV canons on clergy discipline. Just a precautionary move to ensure that we are in compliance. I believe we are.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
- Woke up to about five inches of snow on the driveway, so threw on some appropriate apparel and tried to start the long-dormant snow blower. It was uncooperative. So I resorted to a shovel while Brenda came behind me with a broo. But, as we were about halfway done, I tried the snowblower again and it worked. So the rest of the task was short work.
- Morning Prayer in the office.
- Prepared to celebrate and preach the midday liturgy--a process elongated by a series of interruptions for brief conversations with staff.
- Took an incoming phone call from one of our parish clergy.
- Performed major surgery on an old homily for Epiphany IV, rehabbing it for use on 31 January at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
- Presided and preached the noon liturgy in the cathedral chapel, keeping the lesser feast of St Fabian of Rome.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
- Not a very efficient afternoon--lots of interruptions in the form of phone calls and urgent-ish emails.
- Reviewed materials from a Christian formation program developed by one of our clergy. It's actually quite good, and I look forward to further investigation.
- Had a substantive phone conversation with a priest from outside the diocese who has a strong history in and connection to the Diocese of Peru, with which we are in a companion relationship.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Out the door northward at a humane hour for a Sunday morning--8:30. Presided and preached at the regular 10:15am celebration of the Eucharist at Christ the King, Normal. As it happened, for the second year in a row, without planning to do so, I ended up there on the day of their annual parish meeting. So I stayed, of course, and, in due time, had some robust conversation about the mission of the diocese of McLean County, my recent pastoral letter on intinction at Holy Communion, and the recent gathering the Anglican Primates in Canterbury. Home around 3:30, where, after dinner, I banged out this statement to the diocese on the Primates' Meeting.
Christ the King, Normal--John 2:1-11
I’m not what you would call a science fiction junkie, exactly, but I have enjoyed a great many science fiction movies and TV shows and the occasional novel. Science fiction writers don’t have to precisely and in great detail solve every technical issue that their stories raise—in other words, there’s room for “fiction” in “science fiction.” But they do have to at least appear to make an effort; they have to try and describe something that is at least remotely plausible to explain the “science” part of what’s happening in their story. I don’t think anybody knows how the warp drive on Star Trek vessels works, but I can at least conceptually understand the notion of “bending space” in order to make the shortest distance between two points something other than a straight line.
One of my favorite science fiction concepts is from the Star Trek: Voyager TV series from the mid-1990s. Several of the episodes mentioned locations in space that were known to be, or suspected to be, wormholes. Try and imagine space as the surface of an apple. In order to get from one point to another on that apple, our normal impulse would be to move along the surface in as direct a route as we can plot. But what if the worm has a better idea? What if we were to take a shortcut through the actual substance of the apple, and save a lot of time and distance in the process? If there were indeed wormholes in space, or, for that matter, if we could find a way to “warp” space and create our own wormholes, well … that opens up a whole new range of possibilities for travel. Now, I hope I haven’t made too much of this introduction, but what I want to suggest to you is that today’s very familiar gospel narrative from John 2 might be credibly understood as a wormhole—a wormhole, moreover, that we are invited to dive into!
Yes, it’s a familiar story—the miracle at Cana, the turning of water into wine. Yet, it’s also a story that we never seem to be able to quite get to the bottom of, at least not in a completely satisfying manner. This is actually quite typical—this feeling of trying to nail a serving of Jell-O to a tree—quite typical of this gospel, along with the three epistles attributed to the Apostle John, along with the Book of Revelation—what the academicians call the “Johannine” literature of the New Testament. Back in 2009, I got to visit the shrine church in the village of Cana that, according to tradition, sits on the very spot where this miracle took place, and the experience of being there only intensified my questions, intensified my uneasiness.
One thing we need to understand right from the beginning is that, in this narrative, John tells us precisely what’s important about what went on there that day—no more and no less. All the details in the story are significant, but—and this is what’s difficult for us—any of the details that are not provided are therefore not important. So, if we are left with any unanswered questions—Why was Jesus invited? Why did all his disciples come? How many people were there? What sort of building was it?—if we have any unanswered questions, then we just need to suck it up and realize that they’re irrelevant to the point, and move on!
What are we left with, then? Pretty much two things, really: First, Jesus’ terse dialogue with his mother about his “hour,” and the fact that, in his estimation, it has not yet arrived. Then, secondly, good wine in abundance. These are the elements—Jesus’ “hour” and abundant good wine—from which we need to tease whatever the “takeaway” is from this story.
Perhaps the most critical element in the narrative—the hinge or fulcrum on which the plot turns—is when Jesus responds to his mother’s initial petition with, “My hour has not yet come.” This conveys the notion that Jesus had a sense of a particular purpose for being in this world, a particular act or work that he needed to accomplish, and that this work would take place only when certain conditions had been met, when certain prior events had already occurred, when all the “ducks were in a row,” and that right now and right here—at a wedding, in Cana, in Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem—right now was not that moment. This was not his “hour.” So Jesus resisted being prematurely drawn into the sorts of actions that he anticipated would characterize his hour. It’s always risky to psychologize Jesus, but we might speculate that he felt something like panic, like a woman in labor who has an irresistible urge to push, but the midwife assures her that it’s not yet the time to do that; her “hour” has not yet come.
With the gift of hindsight, having read both John’s gospel and the synoptics, we know that Jesus’ hour comes to fruition only as he hangs on the cross, lifted up—like Moses’ graven serpent in the wilderness when the people of Israel were literally “snakebit”—when Jesus is lifted up for all to look to and be saved. Yet, Jesus does not persist in his resistance. Neither does he panic and indulge in premature engagement with his hour. Rather, he exploits the opportunity to put forward a robust sign of his “hour,” a foretaste, a sneak preview. In the miracle of turning water into wine, we have an epiphany of the glory of Jesus’ hour by means of a wormhole. This miracle is a wormhole that transports us from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its conclusion. Even as Jesus hangs on the cross as a sacrificial victim—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—he is also the officiating priest, the go-between who brokers the deal that is “done” when he utters his final cry, “It is finished.” In Cana, Jesus brokers the deal that turns water into wine, allowing a nuptial banquet, a marriage feast, to proceed. The miracle is a wormhole from the initiation of Jesus’ ministry to its completion, showing, manifesting what the purpose of his life and teaching is.
But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet! The miracle at Cana is a prefigurement—a premonition—of the Eucharist. The amount of good new wine was not meager, but abundant, with plenty for everybody, even as, at the Eucharist, we never run out. We can break the bread down into miniscule crumbs and everybody still gets the same amount of Jesus, a full serving of the Body of Christ. We can dilute the wine in one chalice with gallons of water, and everybody still get the same amount of the Blood of Christ. It’s the closest thing to what we might call a “routine miracle” that I can think of.
And then, in that way, under that sign, the Eucharist itself becomes our wormhole to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Celestial Banquet, the consummation of the salvation of the universe by the Father through the Son—who is both Priest and Victim, brokering the transaction—in the Holy Spirit. This is the making new of all things, the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whenever I have to preach at a funeral where the “guest of honor” is someone I didn’t know all that well, and sometimes even when the “guest of honor” is someone that I knew quite well, and if the funeral includes a celebration of the Eucharist, I have a sort of standard conclusion that I work toward. Without ever mentioning the expression “wormhole,” I nonetheless explain how the Eucharist is a wormhole, how there is really only one Heavenly Banquet, and that when the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, we are transported to that Banquet, and that when we come forward to receive Holy Communion, we are poking our hands into Heaven. We are kneeling beside not only those who are with us in church that day, but all God’s people in every place who are gathered at the altar doing what we’re doing, and all who have gone before us marked with the sign of the cross, including and especially the one whom we are commending to the nearer presence of God and laying to rest in that funeral Mass. At every Eucharist, we are with our loved ones, we are with all the saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs who have preceded us. We are, with them, fed at the same table, and given the same food, as they are. So, as we contemplate the Epiphany mystery of water becoming wine at a marriage feast, we enter a wormhole that delivers us to this very celebration of the Eucharist, and, at this very celebration of the Eucharist, we are invited to dive into another wormhole that takes us to the eternal Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Shall we do it once again? Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Didn't leave the house all day, but, aside from a weights and treadmill workout, it was nose-to-the-grindstone as I cleared a pile of email detritus that I wasn't able to process on the fly during my two days of travel to Wisconsin. Also continued to mentally process the information flowing from this past week's meeting of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury. I suspect I will have a written response out within a couple of days.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Morning Prayer and Mass in St Mary's Chapel. Breakfast in the refectory. After some conversation, I hit the road around 9:45, headed east toward Milwaukee, and then south toward Chicago. My intermediate destination was the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, where I had lunch with postulant Matthew Dallman at his CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) venue, Adventist Hospital. Back in the YFNBmobile at 1:30, pulling into my driveway right at 5:00. Always glad to be home.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Up and out by 6:45, headed north. Pulled into campus at Nashotah House just before noon. Visiting Nashotah is always and intrinsically good thing, but this visit was for a funeral ... and, of course, it's January in Wisconsin. (Actually, it was kind of a lovely day--sunny, no wind, temperatures in the mid-30s. So we had another Requiem Mass for Bishop Parsons, then processed with his cremated remains up to the cemetery for the Committal, at which it was my honor to preside. We use the word "bury" so figuratively and euphemistically these days; there was something comfortingly wholesome about doing it literally--taking turns shoveling dirt into the whole in which the urn had been placed. This was followed by a reception in the refectory, which afforded some time to electronically catch up on the developments in Canterbury. Over the next few days, I will have something more to say officially about what the Primates accomplished, but this evening I am neither elated nor disappointed, and certainly not surprised. This is within the broad range of what I was hoping for and expecting. Dinner with the friends. Spending the night as a guest of the Dean. Heading home tomorrow, by way of a meeting in the Chicago area.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
- Once again, scoured the interwebs for news from the primates meeting. Woke up to an encouraging email from someone close to the scene, and as the day progressed, there was more reason to be optimistic. I am already conditioned to pray regularly in a disciplined manner. I do not as often pray spontaneously as I have these last few days, including as a awaken during the night.
- Arrived at the office and immediately tackled getting ready to preside and preach at the midday Mass. Then my electronic system reminded me of an appointment that I had thought was an hour later. Quick adjustment.
- Hence, Morning Prayer was the short memorized form once again as I walked through the cold over to Christ Church for an appointment with Fr Tournoux.
- Back to the office an hour or so later, where I arranged to get myself registered for the March House of Bishops meeting, dashed off a note of welcome to the rector-elect of Alton Parish, and firmed up arrangements for a Nashotah House Board of Directors conference call.
- Presided and preached at Mass for the lesser feast of St Hilary of Poitiers. Dude knew something about keeping theological boundaries without disconnecting, which is kind of ... timely.
- Lunch from McD's, eaten at home. (Yes, McNuggets with hot mustard sauce.)
- Performed reconstructive surgery on a homily text for Epiphany III toward a goal of rehabbing for use at Trinity, Jacksonville on the 24th.
- Attended to several nuts-and-bolts chores related to planning and preparing the liturgies at the clergy pre-Lenten retreat, coming up in less than three weeks. Yes, Ash Wednesday is only four weeks from today.
- Evening Prayer (short form, memorized) in the car on the way home, right around 6:00.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
- I had to follow Brenda to the Hyundai dealer first thing in the morning so she could get her car serviced, then bring her back home. Hence--Morning Prayer in the car (short memorized form), followed by devotions (Angelus and intercessions) in the cathedral when I got there.
- Kept tabs actively throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter, looking for news from the gathering of Anglican primates in Canterbury.
- Edited, refined, and printed a working script of my homily for this Sunday (Christ the King, Normal).
- Met with the Provost and the cathedral Music Director to discuss some musical/liturgical planning issues, ranging from a look back to this past Christmas and ahead to the post-Easter season, with major attention to Holy Week.
- Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
- Dealt with a couple of smallish administrative issues, one related to clergy deployment and one Nashotah-related.
- With breaking news from Canterbury, stepped across the alley into the cathedral for a time of prayer.
- Completed a fairly detailed form as part of the process of executing the annual performance review for the Dean of Nashotah House.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Lady Brenda and I about ready to leave Trinity, Lincoln this morning after being received with enormous hospitality and warmth, even though outside temperatures were in single digits. Celebrated and preached at 7:30 and 9:45. Took part in wide-ranging informal discussions after each service. Tasty Chinese cuisine with Fr Mark Evans and Sandy Moore, his wife. Sunday mornings are such fun.
Trinity, Lincoln--Luke 3:21-22, Acts 10:34-38
Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Christ. All three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—tell the story of this event, but each in a different way, from a unique perspective. In St Luke’s version, which we read in this Year C of the three-year lectionary cycle, there is great emphasis on two particular details: First, Luke wants us not to miss the fact that Jesus operated in the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus was praying after his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. As we read Luke’s gospel, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s ministry is an important theme. And as we read the book of Acts, also written by St Luke, the presence and power of that same Holy Spirit in the life of the early church is also an important theme. Second, Luke’s account of the baptism of Christ lays great emphasis on the voice of God the Father sounding from the heavens: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” So, just as Jesus works in the power of the Spirit, so he works on the authority of the Father. In the tenth chapter of Acts, St Luke records the words of St Peter about Jesus’s career, how he “proclaimed Good News throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about healing all those that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
So, in this miniature two-verse narrative from Luke, and the brief summary from Acts, we are put in mind of all the mighty acts of God, from the beginning of time, to the present age, and into the promised future. We do not worship a God-concept, a philosophical hypothesis, a passive, disinterested supreme deity. We worship an active, passionate, and involved God, a God who is a “mover and a shaker,” a God who is present in human experience.
Stephen Covey was a writer and speaker who deeply influenced they way I think and act with respect to the use of time. One of Covey’s cardinal principles is that, if we want to be effective in life, we need to be what he called “proactive.” To be proactive is to live life, rather than letting life live us. It is to be one who initiates, not one who reacts; one who is engaged, not one who is passive. In my mind, there is a profound theological implication here that is virtually screaming to be spoken, so I will speak it: God is the perfect example of proactivity. God does not react; God acts. God is not passive; God initiates. When we forget these core attributes of God’s nature, we do so at our own spiritual peril. When we forget that God is quite capable of advancing His own agenda, it’s all too easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s up to us to take up the slack. When we do that, we eventually begin to treat our life of faith as a “cause” to be advocated. We begin to treat our church involvement as an “issue” to be defended. We take up banners—and these are good banners—we take up banners such as renewal, or evangelism, or mission, or social justice, or, in a year like this, our favorite political candidate; projects like upholding tradition and maintaining theological integrity, or lobbying legislatures and office holders over issues of public policy—and pretty soon these banners become surrogates for a living relationship with the living God; the cart gets in front of the horse, the good overshadows the best, the means become more important than the ends.
Similarly, when we forget that God is proactive, our involvement in the world is cut loose from its theological and spiritual moorings. If our politics lean toward the left, we become consumed with issues of social justice, but lose sight of the Just One, God who is the plumb line of justice. If our politics tilt toward the right, we become obsessed with issues of personal morality and security, but lose contact with the one who is the fount of righteousness, and who “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In our personal lives, when we forget that we serve a proactive God, a God who makes Himself known in mighty acts, we are vulnerable to attack from constant anxiety over finances and health. During good times, we worry about hard times, and during hard times, we think they’ll never end. And in our anxiety over finances and health, we hunker down into a defensive posture, and become good stewards of neither one. We are defined by our anxiety—reactive and fearful, or apathetic and fatalistic. When we forget that God is proactive, we lose the ability to be proactive ourselves.
But when we remember the nature of God, when we recall the mighty acts of God, we are reminded, among other things, that we are the heirs of a Christian and Anglican tradition that is life-giving and has helped perfect the holiness of men and women and children for at least the last 1,500 years. We are reminded that we are part of a strong and vital worldwide Anglican Communion that 80 million souls call their spiritual home, and it’s still growing. When we recall the mighty acts of God, we are reminded that we have this beautiful place, and others like it, in which to worship and pray, that lives are being changed in and through the witness of this parish community. When we recall the mighty acts of God, we are reminded that we have been entrusted with a message that is life itself to the thousands of Logan County and central Illinois residents who are waiting to hear it.
We serve a God who is active and watchful, and never turns His back on those who put their trust in Him. The same Holy Spirit who landed on Jesus at his baptism landed on us at ours. The same Father who proclaimed Jesus His Son, and took pleasure in him, has also adopted us as His children, and delights in us. This knowledge frees us and enables us to be proactive ourselves. We need no longer be reactive. When we react, we are behaving by instinct, immediately, without thinking. Now we are free, rather, to respond, not react. When we respond, we behave intelligently, by intention. And our response is one of faith and obedience. We will still be involved in projects and causes. We will still advocate for justice and righteousness, and make prudent provision for our personal and corporate security. We will still take our place in the political processes of church and society. But we will see these causes and projects as contingent and temporary. God isn’t depending on us to advance His agenda on His behalf. Rather, God is inviting us to cooperate in what He is going to accomplish anyway, with or without us!
In my current life, I suspect I qualify as a frequent flyer. I made nineteen trips by air during 2015. But, as commonplace as this is for me nowadays, I have never yet slept through a takeoff or a landing. I have never yet failed to experience a moment of transcendent wonder when the laws of aerodynamics trump the law of gravity, and several thousand tons of steel ascend gracefully into the air. I have never watched an airplane take off and not marveled at the sight. As familiar as it gets, it’s still a mysterious wonder. I hope, for myself and for all of you, that it works the same way with the mighty acts of God—that we will never lose our sense of wonder and joy at who God is and what God does, and that we will always respond to those mighty acts with proactive faith and obedience. Amen.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
It was an honor to preside at the Requiem Mass this afternoon at St Paul's, Pekin for the Rt Revd Donald James Parsons, VI Bishop of Quincy. He was a retired bishop for longer than I've been in holy orders (nearly 27 years), and already a larger-than-life legendary figure before I even started seminary. And then, for the last five years of his life, I was *his* bishop. The turns our lives take are amazing. When we commit his remains to the earth next week at Nashotah House, we may be burying a saint. Of course, everything today was complicated a bit by the weather--the driving time from Springfield to Pekin was 50% longer than normal. Coming home, we swung over to catch I-155 instead of IL 29, and the road was clear and dry.
Friday, January 8, 2016
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Attended to a relatively small but substantive chore related to someone in the ordination pipeline.
- From 9:30 until about 1:30, I met with a group of invited clergy and lay leaders--about a dozen in all--to have a free-ranging discussion, not about the diocesan budget per se, but about the budget development process, with related concerns around the process by which the budget gets funded, and meta-concerns about how that process is perceived, as it were, "in the pews." I think it was a fruitful exchange. I didn't have a pre-scripted outcome in mind, so I shouldn't profess surprise. But I am surprised that one of the major takeaways is the need to double down on communication at every level: between the diocesan staff and the Eucharistic Communities, between the leaders of the ECs and their fellow-parishioners, and at a coordinated diocesan and parochial level. The kind of communication upgrade we need really requires at least a half-time staff person, for which there is not currently any funding. Something on which to mull and pray.
- Of course, there were various informal and brief "after-meetings" that consumed my attention until sometime after 2:00.
- By then, there were 27 new emails waiting for me, which took some time to process.
- Hand-wrote notes to diocesan clergy with mid-to-late January birthdays.
- Took care of a pending pastoral/administrative concern via email.
- Friday prayer: Searching in YouTube for "Anglican hymns" and finding some really good renditions. Soul-stirring.
- Made an appointment for some face time with one of our postulants.
- Took a phone call from the treasurer of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
- Customary first-thing-in-the-morning Thursday weights and treadmill workout.
- Morning Prayer at home. Arrived at the office around 10.
- Attended to some ongoing emerging details pertaining to Bishop Parsons' funeral.
- Thought hard and made some notes in preparation for a gathering of invited clergy and laity at the diocesan office tomorrow to do some "50,000 foot" blue-sky brainstorming about the processes that lead to the formation and adoption of our diocesan annual budget.
- Conferred with (still newish) Treasurer Rod Matthews over a range of concerns.
- Lunch at home. Leftovers.
- Finished the meeting prep that I had begun before lunch.
- Did some editing of the draft service booklet for Bishop Parsons' funeral.
- Participated in a 50-minute Communion Partner Bishops conference call. The gathering of the 38 Anglican primates in Canterbury next week has the potential to shake things up quite considerably, so we had a good bit to discuss.
- Reviewed and tweaked the draft minutes of the most recent round of Nashotah House board activity.
- Drafted and sent email memos to an ad hoc Examining Chaplains group, as well as the President of the Standing Committee, about some people in the ordination process pipeline.
- Attended a handful of small administrative actions.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
- Usual AM routine; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Prepared to celebrate and preach the midday liturgy.
- Large chunks of time, spread out through the day, dealing with putting together the details of Bishop Parsons' funeral--phone calls and emails.
- Met with the cathedral Provost on a range of important but non-emergent matters.
- Straightened the credenza behind my desk--a semi-annual chore.
- While I was disappointed not to have access to a proper solemn Eucharist for this principal feast, I was delighted to see four people in the congregation for the 12:15 Mass, and more delighted that they were game to do some singing. So we used "As with gladness ..." in place of the Gloria, chanted an Alleluia for the gospel acclamation, sang "We three kings ..." at the Offertory, I chanted the Great Thanksgiving and we sand the Sanctus and Lord's Prayer. So it was a kind of "sung Low Mass," to coin a category. Great fun.
- Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
- Scanned and otherwise processed the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
- Took the "developed outline" of an Epiphany II homily (the 17th at Christ the King, Normal) and kicked them to the stage of "rough draft."
- Back to the onslaught of normal: Weekly task organizing at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Got the news early in the morning via text message that Bishop Donald Parsons, retired Sixth Bishop of Quincy, and lately assisting in the Diocese of Springfield, succumbed to COPD last night after a very long and slow decline. He was a saintly man and a godly bishop, and those of us this side of eternity are the poorer for his passing. Since it had been pre-arranged that I would preside at his funeral, a good bit of my day was consumed by phone calls and emails as the planning and preparation process for his requiem unfolds.
- Attended to some planning details for a gathering that will take place at the diocesan office on Friday.
- Dealt, by phone call and email, with a handful of details pertaining to those in various stages of the ordination process.
- Refined and printed a working script of my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at Trinity, Lincoln.
- Lunch from HyVee (pulled pork), eaten at home.
- Reviewed, edited, and posted a Pastoral Letter to the diocese entitled Receiving the Gift of Divine Life. You can see it here.
- Focused on understanding and then beginning to act on my responsibility to lead the Nashotah House Board of Directors in an annual evaluation of the Dean. I think we're on a glide path toward getting this done--I might add, for the first time in recent memory.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Friday, January 1, 2016
As you might have surmised, I've throttled back on the pace of my activity during the week after Christmas, and until next Tuesday, actually. (No visitation this weekend.) Yesterday, from home, I paid some attention to a small matter pertaining to our companion relationship with the proto-Diocese of Arequipa in Peru. Later, I read and replied to Ember Day letters from three of our postulants for Holy Orders. But ... drum roll please ... I did that from an Emergency Room bed at St John's Hospital, once again with symptoms that mimic a cardiac event but turn out to be Something Else. I'm glad it wasn't a heart problem, but I do wish I knew what the Something Else actually is. That quest continues. In the meantime, may the Holy Name of Jesus be adored by all everywhere, on this feast day thereof, and throughout the year. See you back in this venue Tuesday night.