Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon for II Easter

St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel--John 20:19-31

“Holy and gracious Father, in your infinite love, you made us for yourself…”.  Those words are probably familiar to you. They are from the beginning of one of the prayers which we use to consecrate the bread and wine in the Eucharist. In it, we acknowledge to God that, not only has God made us, he has made us for a particular purpose—fe has made us for himself. He has made us to be in relationship with him. The Presbyterians have a document called the Westminster Catechism. The first question in the catechism is, “What is the chief end of Man?” And the answer is, “The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” To be fully human, to be fully alive, is to know and glorify and enjoy God.

God also made us to be in relationship with our fellow human beings. Yes, there are introverts and there are hermits and there are misanthropes—but the fact remains, people need people. Without human contact, we shrivel up inside. We become smaller than ourselves. To be fully human, to be fully alive, is to be in harmonious, life-giving relationship with others.                 

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, on both counts—in our relationship with God and in our relationship with other people—it’s an ideal that we fall consistently short of. We are, in fact, highly conflicted. We are conflicted vertically—toward God—and we are conflicted horizontally —toward one another. We are conflicted globally; nations take up arms against nations, as we have concretely discovered once again only in the last couple of weeks. We are conflicted locally; witness the pervasively negative tone of election campaigning in recent years, not just nationally, but locally. We are conflicted internally; depression and anxiety are epidemic in the “developed world” of the industrialized west. “World peace”—whether we think of it globally, locally, or internally—is such an elusive ideal that we laugh and the cliché of the beauty pageant contestant who is asked by the official interviewer what her main goal in life is, and she answers, “World peace.”

Living, then, as we do, in the midst of such widespread and profound conflict, there is no escaping its impact on our lives. In fact, conflict regularly reaches crisis proportions. If the truth were known, just about every household—even when there is a sincere desire and effort to love one another—just about every household is at least frequently, if not chronically, dysfunctional. There is a great deal of pain and woundedness that is concealed behind the public smiles of apparently happy families.  The effects of substance abuse—drugs, alcohol, tobacco—inflict fresh damage on precious human lives on a daily basis. Suicide is a sign of how difficult it is to hide the crippling mental and emotional pain that so many people live with all the time. And we haven’t even mentioned litigation—people suing each other at the drop of a hat—or street crime, organized crime, civil strife, terrorism, or war.

We are like the disciples of Jesus on the evening of that first Easter day—hunkered down together in an upper room, paralyzed by fear that they would be presumed guilty by association, that the same powers that had crucified Jesus were now going to come after them. You and I are too often paralyzed by fear of the powers that remind us of our conflicted state, and we create our own versions of that upper room. For at least the last twenty years, I have had in my home a place that I can literally use to escape to—sometimes it’s actually been an “upper room.” We’re talking about a desk, a TV, a phone, a recliner, and a book table, everything I need to be quite happy in that room for an extended period. But our “upper room” can be a lot of things; it’s wherever we go to escape our fears. It can be work, it can be recreation, it can be exercise, it can be drinking, or any one of a number of more overtly destructive activities. Where is your “upper room”?

Wherever it is, I hope you’re ready for some company. Because just when the disciples are at a low emotional ebb, hiding in their upper room, Jesus shows up. I think the expression, “shocked but not surprised” applies here. They’d heard some reports of the empty tomb and the risen Christ, but they weren’t really from a source that would be considered absolutely reliable. Now they’re looking at him, very much in the flesh, the same flesh they had watched die on the cross barely 48 hours earlier, but yet, it’s now a different kind of flesh—the kind that can enter a locked room without the burden of opening the door. The risen Christ enters the room where the disciples are hidden, and the first thing he says is not, “Hey, look at me, I’m back!” It’s “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you.

This is one of those instances when the English language is not quite up to the task. The Hebrew word that is behind the Aramaic word that Jesus would have actually spoken, which is rendered in Greek when St John writes his gospel, and is then translated into English as “peace” —that word is shalom. And shalom has much broader connotations than the mere absence of hostility. Shalom is deep peace, deep harmony, a convergence and a congruence at a cellular level. It’s an alignment of energy and resources in the same direction. Shalom is peace within, and peace without; peace that is global, peace that is local, and peace that is internal. This is the peace that the risen Jesus brings into the upper room where his followers are huddled in fear. And he doesn’t just wish peace on them, or invite them to have peace; he supplies the peace, he is the peace.

That same Jesus wants to enter our “upper room” as well, and bring us peace, bring us shalom. He wants to be our peace—peace that integrates us internally and reconciles us externally, peace that is local and peace that is global. Wishing for “world peace” may be a beauty pageant cliché, but sometimes clichés make a valuable point. One such cliché is found on more than a few automobile bumper stickers. It’s a pun—it says “No [spelled n-o]…no Jesus, no peace—and then, just underneath that phrase, “Know [spelled k-n-o-w]…know Jesus, know peace.” Despite the fact that it appears on bumper stickers, there is great truth here. Jesus isn’t called the “Prince of Peace” for nothing. He is the bringer of shalom, the rich, multi-level Hebraic notion of peace.

The peace that Jesus brings doesn’t—in the near term, at any rate—eliminate all conflict. It’s not going to make wars go away or cure all the ills of society. It brings about the cessation of struggle, but the struggle that ends is our struggle against God. In God’s will is our peace; in God’s service is our perfect freedom. Shalom brings us rest, the way St Augustine meant it when he said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

It is profoundly and tragically ironic—in the light of one conflict that catches headlines every day—that our Lord’s disciples were gathered, filled with fear, in Jerusalem. The very name “Jerusalem” means “city of shalom”—city of peace. Yet, Jerusalem has always been the site of conflict. We are bidden in Psalm 122 to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Nonetheless, at every stage in its conflicted history, there have been those in Jerusalem who have known the peace of God, the peace of Christ, who have experienced authentic shalom. Even in the midst of strife and violence, shalom has been present in that city, shalom has been present in the upper room. Those who have experienced this peace have been able to bear witness to it, and continue to live in Jerusalem even while hostility and violence appear to reign. Wherever our “Jerusalem” is, wherever our “upper room” is, wherever we are hidden for fear of those who would be our undoing, today Jesus enters that room in the glory of his resurrected life, and says “Peace be with you.” Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday in Easter Week

Slow morning at home ... long treadmill workout ... packing and other preparations for being away for several days. Left home after supper, around 6:30, and headed for Effingham with Brenda. We're bedding down here tonight ahead of moving on in the morning to Mt Carmel and a visitation to St John the Baptist there. Then it's off to St Louis, from whence we will fly to our annual Continuing Education meeting (I believe I've previously described "critical incident reports") with my Class of 2011 bishop colleagues and most of their spouses. We'll be home Friday afternoon, and I'll probably be "dark" in this venue until then.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday in Easter Week

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent the rest of the morning working on a narrative as part of the process of the annual evaluation of the Dean of Nashotah House. It took longer than I expected, for multiple reasons. 
  • Before heading out for lunch, spent 45 minutes on a conference call regarding some personal/family concerns.
  • Chinese food from HyVee, eaten at home.
  • Returned to the decanal evaluation task and brought to it completion.
  • Refined and printed my homily for Easter III, which will now be given at the cathedral, since St Bart's, Granite City needed to delay my April 30 visitation.
  • Revised a sermon text for Easter IV from several years ago for use this year at the Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign.
  • As a prayer practice, spent some time at the cathedral organ playing through hymns from the Hymnal 1940. There are usually good reasons why several items from that book didn't make it into the 1982 revision. But that doesn't mean I can't feel nostalgic and miss some of them. Which I do. So those are the ones I focused on.
  • While I was there, Evening Prayer a bit on the early side.
  • Wrote out notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with birthdays or wedding anniversaries in May. I'll take care of the ordination anniversaries by email.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday in Easter Week

  • Extended treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, around 10am.
  • Attended briefly to some business related to my latest round of formal portraits.
  • Assembled and reviewed résumés and other expressions of interest in the Communications Coordinator position. Reached out by email to the applicants.
  • Processed my physical inbox, a routine but somewhat time-consuming chore that mostly involves scanning.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Substantive pre-arranged phone conversation with the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Substance phone conversation with the Rector of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Exchanged emails with the President of the diocesan ECW over a possible fundraising project.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon continuing and completing the work I began last week on an article for the Covenant blog.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday in Easter Week

Spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon pulling my weight as a member of the Board of Directors of the Living Church Foundation, meeting in Dallas. All went well. Got to visit a bit with folks after our business was concluded. Then it was back to DFW, dropped off the rental car, cleared security, and all else unfolded smoothly. Really nice to have a direct flight back to Springfield; layovers contribute a great deal to the stress and anxiety of traveling by air. Home around 9:15.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday in Easter Week

Up at 4:00am in order to get out in time for the 5:48 American Airlines departure from SPI to DFW. After flying, collecting my luggage, picking up my rental car, and driving to my hotel, I will still in time to catch breakfast at the Doubletree Campbell Centre restaurant. Very grateful that my room was ready at such an hour. I'm in Dallas for the spring meeting of the Living Church Foundation board, but my first obligation in that connection wasn't until 4:30, so I had time both for a nice long walk (in a not very pedestrian-friendly part of town) and to knock off a handful of fairly prosaic items on my to-do list, and, of course, process some emails. The bulk of the meeting is tomorrow, and I fly home late in the afternoon. Nonstop is nice.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Day

Back to the cathedral to preside and preach at the 8am Mass. Then, thanks to the kindness of Dean Andy Hook, I was relieved of my commitment to do the same at 10:30. Not often do we make a day trip to the Chicago area (200 miles), but we're just back from one--a family gathering the centerpiece of whom was my 91-year old mother, who is under hospice care.

Easter Homily

Springfield Cathedral

I've sometimes wondered what it would be like to celebrate Easter in the southern hemisphere: South America, Australia, Southern Africa. It would come right about the time summer turns into autumn. The days would be getting noticeably shorter. At really southern latitudes the leaves might be getting ready to turn, and there would be a chill in the air, a harbinger of the approaching winter.

Wouldn't that be strange?! It would feel strange to us because of all the associations we make between Easter and springtime: new beginnings for caterpillars turned into butterflies, new life for baby chicks, the sheer reproductive fecundity of rabbits. All of these symbols that our culture associates with Easter speak loudly of the sheer persistence of birth and life in the face of death and decay. It leads us to an understanding of Easter that sees it as about death being survived—survived, but not particularly defeated, challenged but not necessarily conquered. The lengthening days we are enjoying will, around the twenty-third of June, start to get shorter again. There will be another winter. The baby chick that gives us an Easter feeling will end up on somebody's dinner table, and that Easter bunny in the backyard will become a meal for a hungry owl.

These realities push us to re-interpret Easter in terms that are less than fully concrete: “It's a spiritual reality,” “Grandpa will live on in our memories,” “Aunt Betty is alive in our hearts,” “When something dies, it is absorbed into the cosmic life principle,” or some such. The sheer unlikelihood— in terms of our ordinary experience, that is—the sheer unlikelihood of real resurrection causes us to water down the meaning of Easter. We have, after all, never seen water flow uphill. The sun has never risen in the west. And dead people don't come back to life.

Now, if all we had to go on, in terms of written accounts of the resurrection, were the appearances of Jesus to his friends and disciples in the forty days following his crucifixion, we could be forgiven for our attempts to “spiritualize” Easter. Jesus does come across as somewhat ghost-like—walking          through walls and on top of water, suddenly appearing and disappearing, sort of recognizable but sort of strange-looking at the same time. But these stories are not all we have. We still have to deal—somehow —with the empty tomb, with the experience of those women who came to anoint the body of Jesus early on Easter morning and found that it was not there. They were told by an angel that he was not there precisely because he was risen! This is not a spiritual event we're talking about here. The same flesh and blood that was nailed to a cross, breathed its last, and was laid in a tomb, got up and walked out of that tomb!

The witness of the empty tomb is that Christ's resurrection is not about “surviving” death, spiritually or otherwise. It is not about living on in somebody's memory, or in somebody's descendants, or about being absorbed as a   drop in the great sea of life. The resurrection of Christ is about the annihilation of death, the defeat of death, the conquest of death. And not just any particular death—not just my death or your death, but the very underlying principle of death, the notion of death, the idea of death.

I want to share with you some lines from a poem by the late John Updike:

            Make no mistake: if He rose at all
            it was as His body;
            if the cells' dissolution did not reverse,
            the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
            the Church will fall.

            It was not as the flowers,
            each soft Spring recurrent;
            it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
                        eyes of the eleven apostles;
            it was as His flesh: ours.

            The same hinged thumbs and toes,
            the same valved heart that—pierced—
            died, withered, paused,
            and then regathered out of enduring Might
            new strength to enclose.

            Let us not mock God with metaphor,
            analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
            making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
                        faded credulity of earlier ages:
            let us walk through the door.

            The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,
            not a stone in a story,
            but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
                        grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
                        the wide light of day.

            Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
            for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
            lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
            we are embarrassed by the miracle,
            and crushed by remonstrance.

My friends, our Easter hope is as concrete as the lives we live and the bodies we live in. Our Easter hope is not that anyone whom death has separated from us will live on in our memories or in our hearts. Our Easter hope is that we will once again embrace them in our bodies—bodies, yes, that are more glorious and incorruptible than we can contemplate, but bodies that are, nevertheless, still bodies, which can be seen and touched and recognized.

Christ is risen—we are risen. Death is swallowed up in victory. Christ is risen from the death, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life. Alleluia and Amen!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday / Easter Eve

Gathered, according to one of my favorite customs, with the cathedral Altar Guild at 9am for the brief proper liturgy for Holy Saturday, which features the magnificent ancient homily on Christ's harrowing of hell. Then I joined the workforce in preparing the church for the Easter Vigil. I came home around 11, rested for a bit, had some lunch, and took a substantial walk on a beautiful day. Napped a bit, read a bit, and attended to a few emails. Had another modest bit to eat and headed back to the ranch to get ready for the Great Vigil. We baptized a young girl (neither an infant nor a toddler, but not yet a teen) and confirmed two adults. What wonderful work to be involved in!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

  • Spent a tad bit of extra time at home catching up on some "internet reading" (i.e. articles and blog posts that people have sent links to saying, "This is worth a look").
  • Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Caught up with the Archdeacon on a couple of things.
  • Reviewed the draft Easter Vigil program and walked it back across the alley to offer some suggestions. Between the Dean and the Altar Guild Directress, I got sucked into a good bit of liturgical puttering.
  • A quarterly (or so) task: Master sermon planning for a chunk of time, in this case, Propers 6 through 17 (basically, early June to early September). Much of that time I'm going to be either in Tanzania or on vacation, so there weren't actually eleven Sundays involved. So, what I do is look and see whether there's any old material than can be retreaded. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't. Then I schedule the specific tasks associated with either crafting a sermon from scratch or reworking an old one.
  • Refined and printed the working text of my homily for Easter II (April 23 at St John's the Baptist, Mt Carmel).
  • Went home for a while, just for a change of pace. Took a substantial walk. Watched a bit of the Cubs game.
  • Responded by email to a query from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Spent about 40 minutes in prayer with Jesus, sacramentally present on the Altar of Repose in the cathedral chapel.
  • Took a first homiletical pass at the readings for Trinity Sunday (June 11 at Trinity, Mt Vernon).
  • Worked on an article for the Covenant blog that is due next week.
  • Evening Prayer in my office.
  • Went to retrieve Brenda at home so she could be in time for choir practice ahead of the Good Friday cathedral liturgy.
  • Assisted and preached the Good Friday liturgy.

Good Friday Homily

Springfield Cathedral

There are a great many “good” things we can say about the cross of Christ on this “Good” Friday. What took place there was complex, multi-layered, and rich with a variety of meanings.

One of these levels of meaning sees Christ on the cross as an example for us to emulate—the supreme example of servanthood and self-giving, sacrificing the narrow interests of one in order to bring great blessing to many. The eternal Word, the One who was with God at creation, and was himself God, in the words of St Paul, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…”. Taking the form of a servant. The notion of “servant leadership” is very much in fashion these days. I’m not only speaking of the church, where one might expect servant leadership to get at least a good bit of lip service. And I’m not speaking only of government positions—both elected and appointed—where the expression “public service” has a long history. In fact, servant leadership has a strong foothold in that most pragmatic, non-idealistic, bottom line-oriented arena: the world of business.  Top management gurus are touting servant leadership as not only a good thing to do, or the right thing to do, but as the most effective, profit-making, thing to do. And there can be no more effective example of servant leadership than the voluntary self-offering of Jesus on the cross.

Another level of meaning for the cross is as an image, an illustration, of the magnitude of God’s love for us. God is infinite and holy, and so it can be enormously difficult for us who are finite and sinful to even conceive of God, let alone God’s love. When we allow ourselves to dwell too exclusively on those passages of scripture that paint a vivid picture of the righteous wrath of God —God’s justifiable anger—we can easily develop an attitude that sees God as chronically irritated with us. The image of Jesus suffering on the cross is a balancing corrective to that attitude. Many of you are no doubt familiar with the painting that seems to answer an unspoken question, “Lord, how much do you love me?” The painting depicts Jesus hanging on the cross, with his arms outstretched. There’s a caption that reads, “I love you this much.” The cross is an illustration of the breadth and depth of God’s love. He loves us “this much.”

But as good and as true as these explanations of the meaning of the cross of Christ are, they are not in themselves adequate. They buckle under the load of what this day—this Friday we call “good”—is about. If the cross is only an example of sacrificial servanthood, then it is of no help to us, because we have no hope being able to fully emulate that example. We’ve never had the option of “counting equality with God a thing to be grasped” because we were never equal with God in the first place.  No other human being can possibly be as humble as Christ, because no one else has “traveled”—so to speak—as far as he has to descend to the humility he manifests on the cross. The higher one is to begin with, the lower one can fall. None of us, therefore, can truly imitate Jesus’ example of humility, of servanthood.

And knowing that God loves us “this much” is comforting. I don’t want for a second to diminish the power of that illustration. But when we remove the layer of sentimentality that accompanies the image, what exactly are we left with? What does it actually do for us? It’s like telling a person who’s gravely ill, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be just fine.” Those are encouraging words, and very welcome in the moment. But they are no substitute for actual medical treatment that results in more favorable lab work or X-rays or whatever. We need more than encouraging words to be able to really call this Friday “good.”

So I’m here to tell you: The cross is more than an example for us to inadequately attempt to emulate. The cross is more than an illustration of the extent of God’s love. The cross is itself God’s love in action, God’s love, as it were, “on the job.” It is the peak, the summit, of God’s love. The cross is itself God’s ultimate act of love for us, because, on the cross, God becomes vulnerable. In many years of walking the Stations of the Cross during Lent, my attention has been frequently arrested at the Tenth Station, the one where Jesus is stripped of his garment, his seamless robe. Now, when we see illustrations of the crucifixion, Jesus is wearing a discreet loincloth. But, from the information I’ve gathered, there’s a very good chance that the Roman soldiers did not leave him even with that small dignity. Crucifixion was not meant merely to put a person to death; one blow of a sword could accomplish that much quite a bit more efficiently. Rather, crucifixion was intended to utterly humiliate the condemned person in the process. And what is more humiliating that being exposed, stark naked, several feet off the ground, for all the world to see. People could say things and throw things and the person on the cross had no defense. As he hung there, Jesus was completely vulnerable. And only by being completely vulnerable could he absorb everything “we” had to throw at Him. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes, we were. Each of us was there. We were the ones hurling the insults. As we sing in one of the most powerful of our Passiontide hymns: “I it was denied thee, I crucified thee.” In his naked vulnerability, Jesus absorbed the whole force of human sin, the whole force of cosmic evil. Rather than reflecting it back, he absorbed it, and in absorbing it, he disarmed it, he neutralized it, he defanged it. Jesus on the cross is a veritable “black hole” for sin and evil. They go in, but they don’t come out. They are, in fact, transformed, and we realize in the end that evil itself doesn’t exist in its own right; it is only the distortion of good.

Christmas is the first sign of God’s vulnerability. He is present with as a baby, a helpless infant. On Good Friday, that sign is lit up, in the brightest neon, for all the world to see. The words of the sixth century poet Venatius Honorius Fortunatus capture this image of the cross as an emblem of light: “The royal banners forward go, the cross shines forth in mystic glow, where he through whom our flesh was made, in that same flesh our ransom paid. … O tree of beauty, tree most fair, ordained those holy limbs to bear, gone is thy shame, each crimsoned bough proclaims the king of glory now.”


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

  • Extended treadmill workout first thing in the morning. In the office around 9:30.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt via email with some detritus from yesterday's tutorial on our database system (Gnosis for Nonprofits).
  • Refined, formatted, and printed my Easter homily (here at the cathedral, both for the Vigil and Easter Day).
  • Began to attend to some Nashotah-related issues (reading and assessing texts pertaining to the annual evaluation of the Dean).
  • When reminded by my electronic minions, headed out the door on foot a few blocks to Obed & Isaac's, where I had a lunch appointment with my United Methodist counterpart, Bishop Frank Beard.
  • Consulted briefly with the Archdeacon on an ongoing matter, and reviewed some documents pertaining to that matter.
  • Reviewed and developed comments on the draft program for the Good Friday liturgy at the cathedral.
  • Blew through a sheaf of relatively "short and sharp" tasks: financial reports from organizations whose boards I serve on (Forward Movement, SKCM), a Communion Partners document).
  • Left to take Brenda to a healthcare appointment.
  • Returned to the office about 90 minutes later. Worked on my sermon for Easter VI (May 21 at Emmanuel, Champaign), sitting with the scripture texts yet again, along with the notes I made week before last from the commentaries I consulted. Finally arrived at my message statement, and made a few notes about how to develop it.
  • Without there being any requirement to do so, a couple of out clergy write me an annual report, quite detailed, about how things are going in their cures. I am immensely grateful for this. Read and responded to one such report.
  • Evening Prayer (as well as a bit of liturgical puttering) in the cathedral.
  • Home briefly for a light supper, then back in for the Maundy Thursday liturgy, at which I presided while the Dean preached a fine homily.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday in Holy Week

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for the midday Mass.
  • Updated and revised the text of an Easter homily from a earlier for use this weekend at the cathedral.
  • Participated in a two-hour training/tutorial on our new database system given by our coach/consultant Pete Sherman.
  • Celebrated and preached the liturgy for Holy Wednesday.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Processed a short stack of emails.
  • Made my pre-Easter confession (to a retired priest whom I recruited for special duty).
  • Read and made some notes on a substantial draft response from the Executive Council to a document on ecumenism from the "faith and order" section of the World Council of Churches. The draft has been circulated for comment by the Executive Council.
  • Took note of a message from another diocese regarding a disciplined (or, in this case, restored) member of the clergy. Bishops get a pretty steady supply of such notices.
  • Responded substantively via email to a pastoral issue raised by one of our clergy.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Read Evening Prayer in the cathedral about 15-30 minutes earlier than usual so I could get home and take a walk before dinner. #10,000steps

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday in Holy Week

  • Daily and weekly task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon over a small array of emerging and ongoing concerns, administrative and pastoral.
  • Followed through by email with some administrivia related to a couple of those concerns.
  • Took a brisk walk down Second to South Grand, over to Spring, and back up.
  • Read and made a few notes the ten-page document that sets out the terms of a proposed full-communion agreement between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. (I have a lunch appointment with the Methodist bishop on Thursday.)
  • Operated on the text of a Good Friday homily from several years ago toward the end of re-deploying it this week at the cathedral.
  • Attended Mass in the cathedral chapel for Tuesday in Holy Week.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Made some final decisions with respect to a new round of official portraits that will soon be made available (including a legacy B&W for the rogue's gallery in the conference room) to those who didn't get in on the action six years ago or are tired of the one they got then.
  • Took my homily for Easter III (St Bartholomew's, Granite City) from developed notes to rough draft stage.
  • Afternoon walk: north on Second to Capitol, east to Eighth, south to Lawrence and back to the corral.
  • Wrote a confirming email to the presenters at our clergy conference in November, nailing down what we discussed by phone a couple of weeks ago.
  • Did some due diligence on the bishop-elect of North Carolina. After an exchange of Facebook messages with a priest whom I know in that diocese, made the decision to consent, and executed the form.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

It has been my custom since taking up my current ministry to spend all of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Easter, at my "home church," i.e. St Paul's Cathedral in Springfield. So I presided at the two liturgies this morning, while Dean Andy Hook did a fine job of preaching. Palms were blessed, the Passion was dramatically read, the Eucharist was celebrated. This is my 40th Holy Week using the full traditional rites of the 1979 Prayer Book. What a joyful privilege.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Saturday (Wm. Augustus Muhlenberg)

The main event of the day was the annual Chrism Mass at the cathedral. I arrived at the cathedral-office complex around 9:30 ahead of an 11am liturgy. Bishop Tony Clavier preached, using an image none of us who heard it will soon forget. The clergy renewed their ordination vows, we celebrated the Eucharist, and we consecrated the Oil of Chrism and the Oil of the Sick. It was all capped off by a luncheon for the clergy and spouses. A wonderful time of collegiality.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday (St Tikhon)

Apologies for being AWOL all week. Tuesday through Thursday I was occupied with a meeting of the Communion Partner bishops at the "interestingly" named Camp Week, about 90 miles west of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a gratifyingly focused and fruitful meeting. We heard a report on the work of the Marriage Task Force. (The expectation is that they will introduce legislation at the 2018 General Convention to revise the Book of Common Prayer piecemeal, beginning with making it completely "gender neutral," especially with respect to marriage, starting with a draft to be approved on first reading in 2018 and adopted for use in 2021.) We heard reports from the Lambeth Design Group (one of our number is a member), the situation among the Global South provinces (drifting toward a tighter connection with GAFCON), the situation in the Anglican Church of Canada (those who are communion-minded and hold a traditional biblical understanding of marriage make up nearly one-third of their House of Bishops), the situation in Province IX (all but one of the dioceses are led by bishops who number themselves among us), and the situation in the Church of England (intense conflict, but overwhelming support for traditional marriage doctrine). We discussed strategic approaches to the 2018 General Convention and the 2020 Lambeth Conference. And ... with flight delays on both ends of my journey, I got home at 1:15am.
So I got a bit of a late start on the day:
  • Picked up my laptop computer from the shop where I had left it for diagnosis and cure. A thorough dust abatement and addition of RAM have made it much happier.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Dean on sundry matters, most relating to Holy Week liturgies.
  • Devoted the rest of the morning to a long list of administrative and pastoral minutia (I don't mean that last term to imply that any of it was unimportant or trivial.) In the midst of this, walked several laps around the cathedral nave.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Reviewed and revised the text of a homily from a prior year for Easter II, which I will redeploy at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel on the 23rd of this month.
  • Yet more administrative and pastoral minutia.
  • Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
  • Offered Evening Prayer, a tad bit on the early side.
  • Left at 4:15 to retrieve Brenda and head east in the YFNBmobile for dinner in Champaign and then a spectacular musical/poetic/devotional event at the Chapel of St John the Divine--a performance of Marcel Dupré's musical interpretation of the Stations of the Cross by Stephen Buzzard, music director at St James' Cathedral in Chicago. It was stunning.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Lent

With our already being in Carbondale, and wth the regular liturgy at St Andrew's not until 10:00, it was a relatively leisurely morning, with time for Brenda and me to have a sit-down breakfast at the Golden Corral near the Hampton Inn. Then it was on the presiding, preaching, and confirming three adults. There was good energy all around and God was glorified. We were on the road just past noon, and with a stop for lunch in Nashville (IL, of course), we were home around 3:30.

Sermon for Lent V

St Andrew's, Carbondale--John 11:1-44, Ezekiel 37:1-14

These are tough times we live in, right?

I suspect that nobody here this morning wants to disagree with that statement. But I also suspect that no two of us would understand it in quite the same way. We may disagree about exactly what makes the times tough, but we agree about the basic facts of the human condition: We are surrounded by uncertainty and anxiety in every dimension. We’re told that we’re nearing the end of a long stretch of economic recovery from the last recession, but I know plenty of people who would say, “What recovery?” Global political instability is threatening us at every turn: ISIS taking credit for a deadly attack in London week before last, North Korea testing ballistic missiles, Russia involved in all sorts of international skullduggery. We read doomsday scenarios of environmental degradation—unbreathable air in Chinese cities, misbehaving ocean currents creating havoc in Peru, drought causing severe famine in Tanzania; my friends, I’ve just mentioned two places where our diocese has companion relationships, where people we actually know have been affected by these events. The list could go on: human trafficking, epidemic opioid addition, etc. etc.

The Jews of the time of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had ample reason for these same feelings. After centuries of armed conflict and political instability, they are now in exile in a strange land, several hundred miles from the territory they call home. They are in collective grief over what they have lost: they have lost their freedom, they have lost their dignity and self-respect as a nation, as a people. They are consumed with hopelessness about their future.

Grief and loss on a collective scale is one thing, and certainly bad enough, but when it becomes personal—and collective grief is always personal for a great many people—the pain becomes all the more pointed. This is the position of Mary and Martha, the two sisters who, along with their brother Lazarus, were close personal friends of Jesus, and it becomes Jesus’ position as well, when Lazarus takes ill and fairly quickly dies. It’s very personal, and there is grief all around. The shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, occurs in this narrative: Jesus wept. And not only is Jesus said to have wept in both personal and compassionate grief over the death of his friend, but there are two others occasions in this passage when the Evangelist uses Greek words that denote intense emotion—deep sighs and groans.

But in his dialogue with Martha, Jesus introduces a game-changing element. At first, she mistakes it for the sort of shallow platitudinous comfort that we so often hear when someone is trying to express condolences but doesn’t know how—stuff like, “God needed another angel in heaven,” or “It was just her time to go” (by the way, don’t ever say those things; it’s terrible theology). But when Jesus tells Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” he wasn’t just perpetuating a cliché. He was introducing a new ingredient into the recipe. It’s not a matter of anything that Jesus does, or, by extension, anything that God does. It’s not a matter of doing at all; rather, it’s a matter of being. It’s a matter of who Jesus—and, by extension, God—is: “I am the resurrection and the life…” Yes, it would be true to say that Jesus gives resurrection and life, but only because he first is resurrection and life.

In this moment of offering comfort to Martha, Jesus reveals the heart of God as one of love-fueled life. He is clearly operating out of love for Lazarus and for Lazarus’ sisters, and that love fuels his action of restoring Lazarus to life. Life is bound up in God’s very identity. God bestows life not merely as something he chooses to do, but from the heart of his essential being, from the heart of who he is.

Now, don’t think that I’m getting all Christian Science on you and suggesting that suffering and grief are not real, all in our minds. Remember, the one who is in his own self “resurrection and life,” Jesus himself, wept. And sighed and groaned with grief. Our loss, our pain, our grief—it’s all real. But where the game gets changed by Jesus is right here: suffering and loss are real, but they are not the last word. Suffering and loss are real, but they are not the end of the story. The God of life still reigns, and will have the last word.

The Jews in exile in Babylon were feeling the pointed end of the spear of grief and loss as they tried to navigate their way around their new and unfamiliar surroundings. It was in that context that Ezekiel, who was one of these exiled Jews—it was in this context that Ezekiel had his magnificent vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones. He sees what seems literally to be an above-ground graveyard. It’s a scene of utter hopelessness. But, before his watchful eyes, the bones assemble themselves into skeletons. Then, muscle tissue and skin attach themselves to the bones. The Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy, and, when he does so, the breath of life comes into the innumerable lifeless bodies, and they stand upright. The Lord tells Ezekiel,
Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.
Ezekiel’s vision was God’s word of hope to the people of Israel. It’s a powerful image of a love-fueled God of life, even as Jesus’ raising of Lazarus was God’s word of hope to his people in that time and place. And both of them are God’s word of hope to us in the loss and grief that we experience, both collective and personal.

We stand now on the brink of our annual plunge into the depths of the Paschal Mystery. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and then we’re into Holy Week and the sacred Triduum—one liturgy in three segments: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter. The God of love-fueled life, the God who breathed life into the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision, the God who raised Lazarus from the dead in the face of his family’s grief—this God will be waiting for you right here as you come together to observe with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. I know you will be richly blessed in your remembrance. Amen.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Saturday (F.D. Maurice)

Treated myself to a treadmill super-workout, cleaned up, packed, and hit the road with Brenda at noon for points south. Arrived at St Andrew's, Carbondale in time to keep a 3:15 appointment with the rector, which lasted about 90 minutes. Then we got settled in our Hampton Inn accommodations before heading out to a buffet dinner party at the home of longtime parish pillar Trish Guyon, which featured Chicago-style hotdogs and lots of Cubs bling.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday (John Donne)

  • Usual AM routine. Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Worked with the Administrator to figure out how to make MS Word and our network copier/printer play well with each other to produce liturgy booklets for the Chrism Mass. It was mysterious, laborious, time-eating, and frustrating, but I think we achieved victory.
  • Reviewed and responded to draft minutes from Tuesday's meeting of the Nashotah board.
  • Reviewed and responded to a draft bulletin for this Sunday at St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Attended to some technical issues pertaining to the ordination process.
  • Took my morning walk--down Second to South Grand, over to Fifth, and back up.
  • Wrote a note of regret to the Bishop-elect of Indianapolis. With one trip outside the diocese ending the day before her consecration and another one beginning the day after, it's just not coming together for me to be there. I may not be the best example of respecting one's limitations, but I do occasionally succeed.
  • Cleaned up my computer desktop, a routine maintenance chore.
  • Another routine chore--making some organizational tweaks to the month after next (in this case, May).
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Brainstormed possibilities for someone I might invite to be the presenter for the scheduled November clergy conference.
  • Began scanning and otherwise processing the accumulated detritus in my physical inbox. While this was going on, I got a phone that, in an unexpected and synchronistic way, led to the solution of my fall clergy conference problem. Details in due course.
  • Before I completed the scanning project, I had a substantive phone conversation with my ELCA counterpart, Bishop John Roth.
  • Took an afternoon walk while doing an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day. #synergize
  • Certified academic-readiness-for-ordination to the Commission on Ministry for two candidates.
  • Publicized on Facebook our desire to hire a Communications Coordinator.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


  • Extended treadmill workout to start the day. Was within just a few steps of my daily goal of 10,000 before I even left the house.
  • Morning Prayer at home; devotions (intercessions, Angelus) in the cathedral upon my arrival around 10:00.
  • Checked in with the Dean over a handful of issues/concerns.
  • Took a substantive phone call from one of our clergy, over an ongoing issue.
  • Attended to some details of this weekend's visitation to St Andrew's, Carbondale.
  • Went down a technology rathole (which always has the potential to become a black hole) related to our almost-ready-for-prime-time database software.
  • Attended to a bit of administrivia of the care-and-feeding-of-clergy variety.
  • Began the process of turning my homiletical message statement for Easter III (April 30 at St Bartholomew's, Granite City) into a detailed outline.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Returned to my sermon task, and marked it complete around 3:15. As a reward, I ambled across the alley and fooled around on the new cathedral organ for just a bit, getting basically acquainted with what it's got going.
  • Put the final touches on the Chrism Mass program, content and format-wise. It's now ready for someone much smarter than I am to figure out how to actually print it.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday (John Keble)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral chapel (still lots of organ-installing going on in the nave and chancel).
  • Prepped to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Completed my prep (begun last week) for tonight's Lenten teaching series presentation at the cathedral.
  • Walked laps in the cathedral nave, since it was raining outside.
  • Reviewed the proofs of the formal portraits that were shot a couple of weeks ago, made a few notes to the photographer, and picked out the winners in each pose.
  • Celebrated and preached the Mass for the lesser feast of John Keble.
  • Lunch from Hy-Vee (Chinese section), eaten at home.
  • Met for about 75 minutes with one of our rectors over an ongoing pastoral matter. It was somewhat intense, which always means I need to kill time with something relatively mindless afterward. So I processed a stack of emails and walk more laps in the cathedral nave, keeping track of the organ becoming playable.
  • Hunkered down with commentaries on the readings for Easter VI (May 21 at Emmanuel, Champaign) in preparation for preaching on that occasion.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • Supper and teaching with folks from the cathedral.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral chapel. The chancel is in disarray due to the ongoing installation of a new (electronic, sadly) organ. (it will sound better than its predecessor, but a cathedral deserves a proper organ.)
  • Went down a technology rabbit hole in preparation for an afternoon conference call (relearning and reconfiguring my bluetooth earpiece).
  • Attended to some more preparation for said conference call (Nashotah House board).
  • Bits of administrivia (fall clergy conference, continuing ed aid to a priest, this weekend's visitation).
  • Began working on the final editing and refinement of this Sunday's homily (Lent V, St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Took a brisk walk up Second to Monroe, over to Spring, and back down, around 2500 steps.
  • Continued and completed the aforementioned sermon prep.
  • Responded by email to a layperson over a pastoral concern.
  • Lunch from McD's eaten at home.
  • While still home, processed some emails, cleaned up my computer desktop, and made last minute prep for the 2pm conference call meeting of the Nashotah House Board of Directors.
  • Chaired said meeting--thanks to the bluetooth earpiece, while running an errand and getting a bunch of steps in. Two hours, though. It's hard mental work to chair a meeting that way.
  • Looked in on the progress of the organ installation in the cathedral. It was more of a mess than in the morning.
  • Took some steps, mostly by email, toward filling the communications position for which funding has been allocated.
  • Evening Prayer in my office.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Up and out of the Doubletree in Bloomington (after a nice complimentary breakfast) in time to lead the adult Sunday School class at Christ the King, Normal at 0900. We talked about the rich Johannine gospels in Year A of of Lent, and then zeroed in on today's narrative of Jesus healing the man born blind, with a side trip to I Samuel and the anointing of David. There were several dots to connect. Then there was the regular 1015 Eucharist, which was exceptionally well-attended by recent CTK standards. After a potluck lunch, I was back home just before 2:00.

Sermon for Lent IV

Christ the King, Normal--John 9:1-41, I Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:1-14

While I was in college, unlike many of my contemporaries, I never really lost the Christian faith in which I was raised. I struggled with it, and rearranged it, and it ended up in a package very different from what I might have imagined when entered college, but I never lost it. And I also never lost my sense of duty to share that faith, to talk about it—at the appropriate time and place—to those whose lives mine might touch. One day, after flying back to southern California from an academic recess of one sort or another, I found myself on a Greyhound bus en route from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Seated next to me was a woman just a few years older than I was. We started to talk, and I inwardly groaned because she was giving off all the signals of someone in a state of real spiritual flux—definitely in a “teachable moment,” we might say—ripe to hear the good news of God’s love in Christ.

Yet, I felt utterly unequal to the task. I wished I had sat next to somebody else who only wanted to talk about sports or politics or the weather—anything except the deep issues of the meaning of life and how human beings ought to behave. I was too unsure of the answers myself. A year or two earlier, or a year or two later, I might have been more confident, but at that moment, there were way too many intellectual loose ends floating around in my brain. I didn’t have a coherent grasp of the gospel—at least, not one that I thought could stand up under the rigorous questions she would no doubt hurl my way. It wasn’t fair of God to put me in this position. Couldn’t He have warned me in a dream, or something? Maybe I could have read just the right book on the plane out from Chicago, one that would have prepared me to answer any question she might ask, any objection she might pose.

Many Christians, I suspect, have felt the same way when confronted with a similar situation. The obligation to bear witness—in word, at least, if not in deed—the obligation to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ ought to be restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained and tested; it’s way too important to leave to amateurs! After all, a lawyer has to pass a grueling bar exam before being allowed to represent a client in a courtroom. And the military doesn’t let just anybody take an F-16 fighter jet up for a joyride—you have to be rigorously trained and certified. Why should speaking up on behalf of the gospel be subject to any less exacting standards?

Well, such reasoning makes a certain amount of sense, from a human perspective—but, apparently, not to God. In the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven, the ruling norm is on-the-job training! We learn to bear effective witness to Christ—both in deed and in word—we learn to bear witness to Christ by just doing it. Sure, there is training available, and lots of help along the way. But, bottom line, we learn it by doing it. And when we stop and think about it, that’s really more the rule than the exception in just about every area of life, isn’t it? Practicing law and flying fighter jets are exceptional categories. Even doctors learn by practicing on real patients while they’re still in medical school. So there was no convenient and honorable way out for me as concerned my obligation to my seatmate on the Greyhound bus forty-something years ago. I don’t know whatever became of her; we didn’t exchange addresses or phone numbers, and I never saw her again. But I did speak honestly to her of my own faith, and my own personal relationship with God in Christ. What effect that witness had on her, I will never know. But I was faithful to my duty—however inept and inadequate my words undoubtedly were.

And this business of on-the-job training for Christian witness should not surprise us the least bit, if we are familiar with the ways of God. Back in the days of ancient Israel, when the first experiment with having a king turned out to be a dud, the LORD spoke to the prophet Samuel and told him to go to the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to replace the hapless King Saul. The LORD would show Samuel which one it was to be at the proper moment. Jesse parades the most likely candidates in from of Samuel first, but Samuel doesn’t get the spiritual “thumbs up” on any of them. The voice of God tells him, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."  Now Samuel was a wise and mature, highly-trained, very intelligent individual. Yet, none of those assets were of any avail to him in the critical moment of anointing the next king of Israel. He just needed to listen, and obey. That’s all.

We see the same principle operating even more dramatically in the rich and profound narrative of the healing of the man born blind as we find it in St John’s gospel. Jesus met and healed an adult man who had been blind from the day of his birth, and could eke out a living only by begging. When his friends and neighbors saw him, they couldn’t believe their own eyes, and when they asked him what had happened, he responded very directly, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes, and now I can see.” He didn’t take courses or get personal coaching in order to say this. He didn’t try to “package” or “spin” his story. He was a little naïve, though, because, as events unfolded, he was put under a lot more pressure before everything was said and done. The Jewish authorities, who were already feeling threatened by Jesus’ popularity, decided to make hay out of the fact that this act of healing was performed on the Sabbath, when work was forbidden by Jewish law. It’s quite significant that, when they interrogated the man on what had happened, Jesus is nowhere to be seen! We might have expected him to show up on the man’s behalf, and speak for himself—defend his own actions. The formerly blind man is on his own. No one bails him out. He is in a position of being called on to bear witness to his relationship with Jesus and what Jesus has done for him, and he’s learning his witness-bearing skills on the job, in the very moment they are needed. At first, he is tentative. He just gives the facts—hoping, perhaps, that they will then leave him alone to enjoy his new life of being able to see. But they turn the screws, and after questioning his parents, they put it to him again. “Come on,” they say, “This guy Jesus is a low-life, a sinner. How could he possibly have given you your sight?” But the healed man rises to the challenge, matching the intensity of the Pharisees’ questions with the incisiveness of his responses: "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." Finally, he is so bold that he virtually takes over the interview, and puts the Pharisees on the defensive:
I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples… You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.  Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.
What a long way this guy has come—from a simple statement of the facts, to a penetrating analysis of the Pharisees’ spiritual condition—and all from purely on-the-job training! Then, and only then, does Jesus reappear in the story, revealing himself more fully, and confirming the man’s faith. But I think it’s fair to speculate that such a consoling encounter was made possible only by the manifest faith and obedience expressed in the man’s witness-bearing in front of the Jewish authorities.

When it comes to guidance and assistance in witness-bearing situations, apparently, God employs a “just in time” method of inventory control. He doesn’t give us more than we can use in advance of the need. He supplies the need at just the right moment. If we put off bearing witness to Christ until we feel fully equipped to do so, we will wait a long time! We will be trapped in our muteness. Meanwhile, we will become more and more anxious and discouraged and feel more and more guilty. The gospel itself—in the story of the man born blind, prefigured in Samuel’s recognition of David as the next king of Israel—the gospel itself provides us with the means to open the doors of our own prison. When we decide to “just do it,” two beautiful things happen. First, we learn to trust that Christ is present even when he is unseen, and we begin to experience that presence. This is the gist of the proverb St Paul quotes to the Ephesians: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, for Christ will give you light.” Second, we are available to him on a moment’s notice, ready to declare in word and deed the saving love of God in Jesus Christ. That, after all, is our job. Amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


An big day, a full day. Up and out by 0815 ahead of a 0945 liturgy rehearsal at St Matthew's, Bloomington. The ordination of Tim Leighton to the diaconate began at 1100--an utterly joyful event. By the time all was said and done, I left the premises around 0145. I checked into my room at the Doubletree, rested for a bit, enjoyed a vigorous 30 minutes on the treadmill, cleaned up and then headed over the Christ the King for a 0400 meeting with their Mission Leadership Team. A couple of hours later, we welcomed the MLT of St Matthew's for dinner. We're hoping to foster a completely cooperative and mission-driven relationship between the two Eucharistic Communities, and tonight was some important incremental progress in that direction.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday (Oscar Romero)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Signed and sealed the ordination certificate for Tim Leighton's being made a deacon tomorrow morning. This is a fine art at which I seem to have become proficient enough of late to get it done on one try. (We print three copies to allow for mishaps.)
  • Took a substantive phone call regarding some personal/family business.
  • Devoted the rest of the morning to creating a rough draft of my homily for Lent V (St Andrew's, Carbondale)--with a break for a walk over to Fifth, down to South Grand, back to Second and up.
  • Lunch from MJ's, a new soul food carry out place on South Grand. (I didn't order their shrimp and grits this time, but I did notice on the menu for future reference.)
  • Conducted a substantive phone interview with a very promising candidate for a position that is part-time in a parish and part-time on diocesan staff for mission strategy development. Followed up with a detailed email to the relevant Senior Warden. The ball is rolling.
  • Worked on some details pertaining to some folks in the ordination process, taking a break for a walk west on Lawrence to Walnut, up Walnut to Monroe, over the Second and back down. Synergized by doing a Lectio Divina on the OT daily office reading for tomorrow's feast of the Annunciation. With the help of the BCP app on my phone, it worked quite well.
  • Took care of a few more small bits of administrivia.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday (St Gregory the Illuminator)

  • Intended to complete my usual Thursday early morning workout, but my treadmill developed mechanical difficulties midcourse, so I had to add a supplementary afternoon walk.
  • After everything, at the office around 9:45. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Sent emails recruiting people to specific roles in the Chrism Mass.
  • Followed through with a couple of bits of administrivia--one related to Cursillo, one related to Nashotah.
  • Tended by email to some pressing personal/family business for about 25 minutes.
  • More attention to the Chrism Mass: selected the hymns and service music, purchasing three items from RiteSong in the process. Finished a rough draft of the service booklet.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Spoke by phone with the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Spoke by phone (prearranged weeks ago) with a sociologist from Ithaca College in New York. It was an interview for a research project he's working on that looks to document how church communities are dealing with the changes in church and society around same-sex marriage.
  • Paid attention to some organizational details pertaining to our June/July visit to our companion diocese of Tabora (Tanzania).
  • Developed my next Lenten teaching series presentation to the "rough notes" stage, available for further development and refinement next week.
  • Walked laps around the interior of the cathedral for about 20 minutes to get to my 10,000 step goal.
  • Opened the file on sermon prep for Easter VI (May 21 at Emmanuel, Champaign)--said my prayers and took an initial pass at the readings, making a few tentative notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday (James DeKoven)

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made preparations (which mostly consisted of identifying and printing out the readings) to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Attended to a small bit of business related to the fall clergy conference (in November).
  • Refined the rough preparations I made last week for tonight's Lenten series presentation at the cathedral, and printed out my working notes.
  • Midday walk: Up Spring to Monroe, west to Walnut, down to Lawrence, and back to the ranch.
  • Began (hand-)writing notes to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in April.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spoke by phone with the secretary of the Nashotah House board ahead of next week's conference call board meeting.
  • Returned to the note-writing task, and finished it.
  • Gave a close look at the latest liturgy booklet draft for Saturday's ordination. It was AOK, and I printed out a copy and placed it in a ceremonial binder for my own use.
  • Spoke by phone with one of our rectors over an emerging strategic issue.
  • Made lodging arrangements for a trip to Cincinnati in May for a Forward Movement board meeting.
  • Inquired re lodging arrangements at Nashotah House for the May board meeting.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, a bit on the early side.
  • Afternoon walk: East on Canedy to Fifth, up to Capital, over to Second, and back down. 
  • Wrestled with my personal and exegetical notes on the propers for Easter III (at St Bart's, Granite City) and distilled my simple declarative sentence message statement.
  • Read and replied to an Ember Day letter from one of our postulants.
  • Had supper with the cathedral folks and delivered my third Lenten series teaching presentation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday (Thomas Ken)

  • Task planning for the day and for the week at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Devoted a chunk of time to various planning details for this year's Chrism Mass (the Saturday before Palm Sunday).
  • Registered for a conference that I thought I had already registered for. But I apparently hadn't.
  • Took care of a small bit of clergy deployment business.
  • Began working on a final working text for this Sunday's homily (Christ the King, Normal).
  • Took a brisk walk up Second to Capitol, over the Fifth, then down to Canedy and back to Second. My FitBit continues to be a motivating taskmaster.
  • Took a look at a draft of the liturgy booklet for this Saturday's ordination to the diaconate. Made a few tweaks.
  • Continued working on the sermon, and brought that task to completion.
  • Sat down with the chair of the Audit Committee to debrief on where we are with that work.
  • Lunch from Twyford's BBQ (pulled pork), eaten at home.
  • Attended to a handful of substantive items pertaining to our companion diocese relationship with Peru. They are suffering mightily from some torrential rainfall that is outside the parameters of their climate. Flooding, mudslides, and the like. The food supply is imperiled.
  • Reviewed next month's Sunday visitation schedule and made a few notes.
  • Afternoon walk: Canedy to Fifth, down to South Grand, back over to Second and up.
  • Further refined the draft Communications Officer job description. I believe we have it in (relatively) final form now.
  • Attended via email to some business pertaining to the Department of Mission.
  • Attended via email to some Living Church Foundation business.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday in Lent

Here I am at coffee hour at St Christopher's in Rantoul, with Priest-in-Charge Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley. For the first time in any of my visits there, I think, I was considerably older than the median age, as several members of a Boy Scout troop that used to be sponsored by St Christopher's, and is currently led by parishioners, were in attendance.

Sermon for III Lent

St Christopher's, Rantoul--John 43:5-42, Exodus 17:1-7

I would suspect that most of you here are not so young that you can’t remember the three Indiana Jones movies from the 80s. Some time ago I found myself watching, on television, the last of the three, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It's the one where Indiana Jones and his father join in the same search that lies behind the legend of King Arthur: the quest for the Holy Graal, the chalice used by our Lord at the Last Supper. The final approach to the cave where the Holy Graal had lain hidden for the past several centuries required the seeker to solve a complex riddle. Only by successfully solving this riddle could he avoid falling victim to a series of deadly booby-traps.

What a wonderful metaphor this is for the way most people—including most Christians—conceive of their relationship with God. Much of the time we behave as though God's grace—God's favor, God's benevolent disposition towards us—is like the Holy Graal—the object of a quest, the reward for solving a riddle. This is a false and dangerous misconception, but it is so deeply ingrained in the way we think and feel that, try as we might, we don't let go of it very easily. It’s the default mode of our imaginations, the way we're naturally inclined. 

There is, of course, a perversion of the gospel in the opposite direction. I don't think this tendency is as common as the one we've just been talking about, but it's equally dangerous. In this view, God's grace is not like the Holy Graal, a reward for great effort, but like the beads, doubloons, cups, and other trinkets that are thrown from a Mardi Gras float down in New Orleans. God doles out his grace whimsically and capriciously. If I happen to be standing where some of it falls, then “lucky me.” But I just have to take it when it comes; I can't plan on it or count on it.

The problem with either of these theologies is that they describe a God who isn't there when you need him! When adversity strikes—and let's face it, we live most our lives in some form, some degree, of adversity—when adversity strikes, we want to know where God is!  We need his grace and favor. But if God's grace and favor is something we need to jump through 99 hoops to earn, and we've only jumped through 98, we've got a problem. And if God's grace is just scattered randomly, we've also got a problem. 

We've got the same problem that the people of Israel had when they'd been in the desert for a little while, and the supply of water that they'd carried with them in their flight from slavery in Egypt began to give out. They were hot. They were thirsty. Their lips were beginning to crack. The children were starting to complain, and the sheep and goats were getting antsy. They were fearful, and they grumbled. One can certainly understand their feelings. Water is something so basic that we take it for granted ... until, that is, we have to do without it. Then we get real grumpy real fast.

Jesus walked into a Samaritan village one day and sent his disciples off to run some errands. It was warm, and he was tired and thirsty. He made his way over to a well, and asked the woman he saw there for a drink. Now, even if you didn't pay attention to this story when it was read from St John's gospel a few minutes ago, you probably noticed that it was long. And if you did pay attention, you noticed that it was complex, a conversation that changes directions several times. It's an incredibly rich narrative, a veritable goldmine of insight into the nature of the gospel and God's ways with humankind. And the bottom line of this rich and complex dialogue is that God's grace is as ubiquitous to our spirits as water is to our bodies. 

I love that word —“ubiquitous.” It's one of those words that was never on my high school English vocabulary lists, so I made it into adult life and earned two college degrees without ever really knowing what it meant. I finally looked it up! It means “ever-present,” something we're always running into, something that's so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

Water is ubiquitous. Thirst is a powerful sensation, more powerful even than hunger, because we can survive without food a lot longer than we can without water. But when we're thirsty, water quenches that thirst completely and nothing quenches thirst like water. Water is basic. Spiritual thirst is also a powerful sensation, and the living water of God's grace is ubiquitously present to quench that thirst. 

Water is not only useful when we're thirsty, but also when we're dirty. It washes away that which is not permanently a part of us and exposes that which is. Sometimes it lets us know just how much dirt was there that we weren't even aware of. Have you ever used a carpet cleaner, and been horrified by the opaque blackness of the water when you dump it at the end of the job? I've thought, “I knew the carpet was dirty, but I really had no idea!” 

The living water of God's grace does the same thing. It not only washes our sins away, but it exposes them in the process, letting us know just how serious they are. In the course of their conversation, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go get her husband. She replies that she has no husband, and he says, “I know—you’ve had five husbands, but the man you're with now isn't one of them!” God's ubiquitous grace gently calls us to face and deal with those issues in our lives, those barriers of our own making, that are separating us from his love. 

Water also renews us emotionally. The people of Israel were not only thirsty and dirty in the desert. They were frightened and despondent. When Moses struck that rock with his staff, and streams of water gushed out of it, my bet is that they not only drank from it and washed themselves in it, but that they played in it, laughed in it, splashed around in it. The water from the rock raised their morale and lifted their spirits. It gave them the emotional strength to continue their journey. 

The living water of God's ubiquitous grace gives us the spiritual strength to continue our journeys. It renews our hope. It gives us the confidence that, even in the middle of our troubles, even in the midst of adversity, God is present, aware of our needs and faithful in meeting them.

Finally, water sustains our lives. You know, our bodies—all living things, for that matter— are mostly water, aren't they?  Compare in your mind's eye the relative sizes of a grape and a raisin, or a plum and a prune, and you'll see the difference that water makes. In order to sustain the life of the body, we need to drink water frequently and abundantly. The same applies to the life of the spirit. 

When the Samaritan woman went and told her friends and family about her conversation with Jesus, St John tells us that many of them “believed in him because of the woman's testimony...”. Eventually, they went right to the source and met Jesus himself, and their faith was confirmed: “...we have heard for ourselves,” they said, “and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” They had tasted the living water for themselves, and they knew that it would be available frequently and abundantly to sustain their lives of faith not only on that day, but through all their days.

When we encounter Jesus, and recognize him as the source of our lives, we tap into the stream of God's ubiquitous grace of which the water from Moses' rock is a wonderful foreshadowing. Then we know God's grace to be not like the Holy Graal, something we must solve a riddle to get. We know God's favor to be not like Mardi Gras beads, something that we may, but probably will not, be lucky enough to be standing under when it falls. Rather, we know God's benevolent disposition towards us to be like water: ubiquitous, all around us, impossible to escape from. Then, when we enter the desert of adversity, whether it's the adversity of a flat tire or the adversity of a terminal illness, we will know that God has not abandoned us, and will be with us as we pass through it until we reach the oasis on the other side. And while we're there in the oasis of prosperity and peace, we'll know that that too is none other than the product of God's ubiquitous grace, the living water that quenches our thirst, exposes and rinses away our sin, lifts our spirits, and sustains our lives. We will know that, in adversity and in prosperity, our lives are hid with God in Christ, and that all will be well. Amen.