Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday (C.S, Lewis)

  • Got bogged down in some technology issues while still at home, so ... a bit of a late start to the morning. Short-form MP at my desk once I got to the office.
  • Dealt by substantive emails with a couple of pastoral/administrative (as sharply distinguished, of course, from administrative/pastoral) issues. As much as I may complain about email, I am, on balance, immensely grateful for it. I can't imagine doing what I do with the technology of yesteryear.
  • Lost time with conversations and phone calls that we peripheral to "business," as it were. It feels hard to get traction on work this day before a long holiday weekend (I have no visitation this Sunday, so it will indeed be an actual holiday weekend for me).
  • Took an initial fly by on the readings for Epiphany I, in preparation for preaching at Trinity, Lincoln on January 7. Disappointed in a major way with what the Revised Common Lectionary has done with the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Cleaned up some loose ends on the morning's sermon work.
  • Having collected advice from key players, I proposed to the Bishop of Tabora some tentative dates for his next visit to the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Attended to a piece of business pertaining to Cursillo.
  • Reviewed the draft minutes from last Friday's regular meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Attended to a couple of routine monthly personal organization calendar-maintenance chores (including making sure I have the correct service times for my December visitations, in this case, and that I've set up reminders to make sure I've connected with the relevant clergy regarding pertinent details).
  • Cleaned up my computer desktop--more routine maintenance.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral a bit on the early side.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Attended to a short stack of administrative details regarding an individual in the ordination process, breaking away at points to field incoming emails on the fly.
  • Dealt by email with a pastoral issue.
  • The IRS thinks I owe them money. I disagree. So I bravely entered whatever circle of hell it is that's required to reach them by phone. While on hold (the music and intermittent announcement forming another aspect of the general hellishness of the experience), I made some progress on deconstructing and reconstructing a sermon text for Advent I from 1999 for use this year at St John's, Centralia.
  • The IRS issue finally having been resolved around 12:25 (sadly, not in a way I had hoped), and cognizant that the periodic limited appearance of the McRib sandwich is in season, I stopped by McD's for one, and ate it at home.
  • Back in the office, I finished the work I had begun on the Advent homily.
  • Dealt by email with an ongoing pastoral issue on behalf of one of our clergy.
  • Continued participation in an email conversation with the chairman of a board that would like to elect me to membership. The organization is dedicated to a purpose about which I care very deeply, and they only meet by conference call and don't seem to be conflicted or have financial woes, so ...
  • Dealt by email with an administrative/pastoral matter that called for the exercise of some episcopal authority.
  • As part of an ongoing project of converting as much to pixels rather than paper, spent some quality time with both my desktop scanner and the network copies/printer, which also scans.
  • Met with a lay communicant of the diocese who is on the cusp of exploring a potential vocation to ordained ministry.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXV Pentecost)

Today's visitation was to St Barnabas', Havana, and this Eucharistic Community under the patronage of the one whose name means "son of encouragement" is indeed both encouraged and encouraging. They went through a very rough patch but are now enjoying a season of happiness. 24 live bodies in the room for Mass was about triple the number the last time I was there. Kudos to Fr Mike Newago for his pastoral leadership.


Sermon for Proper 28

St Barnabas’, Havana--Matthew 25:14-15, 19 29; Zepheniah 1:7,12-18;  I Thessalonians 5:1-10
                                                                                 
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician and research scientist of the eighteenth century. Among many illustrious accomplishments, he is known for a particular argument in favor of belief in God. It has become known as “Pascal’s Wager,” and it’s really quite simple. Consider the possibilities: Either there is a God to whom we are accountable in the next life for the way we conduct ourselves in this one, or there is not. If we do not believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be no such God, then we may be right, but what will it matter? If we do believe in God, and turn out to be wrong, then the most we might reproach ourselves for, in the moment of death, the moment before eternal annihilation, is that we have unnecessarily foregone some of life’s material pleasures. If, on the other hand, we do believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be such a God, then we will have been right, and it will matter a great deal. But it’s the fourth logical possibility that is the zinger in Pascal’s wager: If we disbelieve in God, and it turns out that we were wrong, then there are enormously unpleasant consequences, and we will have eternity to regret the choice we have made.

So it boils down to how much do you have to lose by being wrong? If you bet in favor of God, and are wrong, you lose a few of life passing pleasures for a few years on this earth. If you bet against God, and are wrong, you lose a chance at everlasting joy and peace and fulfillment beyond imagination. Which risk does it make more sense to take?

Pascal’s wager, of course, isn’t entirely convincing, because many people still, by the way they live their lives, bet against the existence of a God who will one day judge them. But to those who are more mentally and emotionally mature, and are inclined to take a long view of things—a very long view, in this case—today;s readings from Holy Scripture offer some reinforcement and encouragement.

The prophet Zephaniah, writing in the seventh century before Christ, speaks of the dreadful “day of the Lord,” when distress and anguish and darkness and gloom will descend upon the earth, and there will be no escape for those who are being justly punished for their unrighteous behavior. Zephaniah makes a point of observing that God cannot be bought or bribed; even those with great fortunes will not be able to purchase an exemption from divine wrath.

This notion, of course, is echoed in many other places. On the whole, the Bible has a very cautionary attitude toward wealth. Not only can it not buy God’s favor, it may be an actual hindrance to the reception of Grace. St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians also speaks of the futility of relying on material resources as a buffer against the wrathful judgment of God: “When people say, ‘There will be peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.” In other words, when the labor pains start, something is going to get born, and it will happen whether one is rich or poor.

So, in the season when we expect to come to church and hear a sermon about money, I’m not going to disappoint you! I’m going to hold up the question, What do these passages say about the Christian’s relationship with his or her bank account? What are the biblical principles of asset management? I would suggest to you that one of the things they tell us is that Christian stewardship is a good bet. It’s like Pascal’s wager written in lower case letters, applied to a specific situation. If there is no God, and we live this life as if our material and financial resources really do belong to us, then we’ll still die, and we still can’t take it with us, especially if there’s nowhere to go. If we do live as though everything indeed comes from and belongs to God, and there turns out to not be a God, then, sure, we may have given up the chance to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but they will have to face the Grim Reaper just like we do, and all their billions won’t matter in that moment. On the other hand, if there is a God, and we manage to live as though we realize that we are tenants and not landlords, we will be most blessed and fortunate. And if we bet the other way, and go through life exploiting Somebody Else’s—meaning God’s—money, we will most miserable.

So, which bet do you want? Which risk seems the more acceptable? It’s just a matter of taking the long view, and there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it. It’s the same impulse that led hundreds of thousands of people in the 1990s to invest in new stock offerings that ended in “.com” even though the companies had never made one dime of profit. It’s taking a chance now for the sake of tremendous rewards in the future. When the Day of the Lord has come and gone, the tangible and in the intangible, the material and the spiritual, will have traded places. What is fleeting and ephemeral now will be hard currency then, and what is prudent and rock solid now will have turned to dust and ashes on that day.

Yet, how difficult it is to take Pascal’s wager, whether it applies to the existence of God in general or the advisability of practicing Christian stewardship in particular. Our human intuition does everything it can to convince us that stewardship is a folly, an unacceptable risk. Why give up expensive vacations, or drive a more modest car, or live in a smaller home, or eat more simply, just so we can make that ten percent tithe to the church? Why give without strings attached, when we could put conditions on our contributions and at least maintain some control over how it is spent? Stewardship may be good theology, tithing may be thoroughly biblical, but from a modern practical point of view, they seem quaint—noble and high-minded, perhaps, but foolish. Why prop up an institution like the Church, which, on its best days may be inefficient, and on its worst days may be corrupt, and which delivers only an intangible benefit, nothing that can be measured and reported?

So, in an attempt to minimize the unacceptable risk of real stewardship, in an attempt to maintain some control over what we still—knuckleheads that we are—think of as “our” money, we employ strategies like giving only what we’re “comfortable” with. There are many church members who, if they totaled up their expenditures at the end of the year, and compared their giving to the Lord with the tips they leave for servers at restaurants, would see very comparable figures. What does it say about our attitude toward God, what does it say about our attitude toward the Church, the Body of his Son, when we, albeit unconsciously, think of him as someone deserving of a nice tip?

The attitude our Lord encourages us to have is not one of maintaining control, but letting go of control. This is represented for us in the familiar parable from Matthew’s gospel about the “talents.” A talent was originally a unit of currency, but, through this parable, which is a stewardship parable par excellence, it has come to mean anything in our possession that is purely a gift from God, unearned and unmerited. Three servants are entrusted with three different amounts of money while their master leaves town for a while. Two of them had the attitude of stewards, and realized that they would be expected to put those assets to active use, even if it meant taking a few risks. The third one, out of sheer laziness and fear, simply buried the money and figured his master would be happy just to receive it back intact when he returned.

He was wrong, as the end of the story demonstrates. The servants who doubled their master’s money while he was away were rewarded, I think, as much for their willingness to take a risk as for the results they achieved. Stewardship is indeed a gamble. It involves engaging in risky behavior, behavior that may not seem prudent or wise by the standards of this world. But when you weigh the odds, and consider the consequences, it’s a risk worth taking. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place you bets.
Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the 10am Diocesan Council Mass; greeting Council members as they arrived.
  • Presided and preached at the liturgy, observing the lesser feast of St Hugh of Lincoln.
  • Presided over the Council meeting, which was brief, but productive in the ways it needed to be.
  • Met privately for about 20 minutes with a clerical member of Council over a pastoral issue.
  • Met privately with a lay member of Council for about the same length of time over a concern in his parish.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Pointed the YFNBmobile westward toward Hannibal, MO, about a hundred miles away, to make a guest appearance at the 178th annual convention of the Diocese of Missouri.
  • Participated, but only as "eye candy," in the convention Eucharist, followed by dinner in the same venue. Along the way, we were entertained by Hannibal's most famous fictional denizens, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday (St Margaret)

  • Accompanied Brenda to a 9am dental appointment that turned out to be slightly more complicated than we had envisioned, but all turned out well.
  • Dropped Brenda at home and was only slightly late for my 11am appointment with Fr Mark Evans and one of his parishioners who believes he may have a vocation to the priesthood.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Replied to an email (in Spanish) from a priest in our companion diocese of Peru.
  • Walked less than a block south on Second Street for a get-acquainted meeting with a professional financial advisor. Retirement for me is not imminent, but simple math reveals that it's no longer far enough away to be an abstraction. It's time to start getting a few ducks in a row.
  • Re-engaged with my sermon-in-progress for Advent III and brought it from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Attended to some potential business for *next* year's synod via a substantive email.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed accumulated hard copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt by email with a bit of administrative detritus pertaining to the diocesan Camp Board.
  • Designed, printed, and sealed a certificate of appreciation for a parish musician in the diocese who has recently celebrated three decades in that ministry.
  • Spoke by phone at substantial length with one of our clergy over some pastoral concerns.
  • Made a visit to Illinois National Bank to (once again) get them to de-link the diocesan checking account from my personal online account access. Not only does is create the opportunity for misbehavior, should I undergo a sudden personality change, but it gives me heart palpitations when I see large checks than I know nothing about show up mixed in with all my trips to Taco Gringo and Schnucks.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took care of a bit of administrivia pertaining to helping one of our Eucharistic Communities with its fall stewardship campaign.
  • Wrestled once again seriously and long with the readings for III Advent, and finally managed to wrangle out a homiletical message statement. This is in preparation for preaching at St Luke's, Springfield on December 17.
  • Re-engaged with Gnosis, which I will yet fully master, and successfully launched an email blast to the geographically resident clergy of the diocese. Worked with Paige on some wrinkles getting this done.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday (Consecration of Samuel Seabury)

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon over some ongoing matters.
  • Took a pastoral-care phone call from one of our clergy.
  • Drove further downtown to meet with an attorney regarding some personal estate planning.
  • Did some routine personal organization maintenance--properly filing items cluttering my computer desktop.
  • Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at home.
  • Did a little bit of General Convention-related business.
  • Got to work on refining and printing the working script of my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana), which task was paused and resumed following a conversation with one of our priests about an ongoing pastoral project.
  • Hit the road northbound late in the afternoon toward Normal. Evening Prayer along the way. Enjoyed dinner and Christ the King with a sizeable portion of their membership. We discussed in a very detailed, sometimes rather raw, fashion the evolving protocols for establishing a geographic Parish of McLean County with St Matthew's. This is emotionally laborious, but well worth the expenditure if it yields the fruit I hope it does. Home around 10.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXIV Pentecost)

On the road right around 8:00, headed eastward toward the regular 10:00 liturgy at Trinity, Mattoon, which seems to be a happy Eucharistic Community under the pastoral leadership of Fr Jeff Kozuszek. We enjoyed a hearty potluck luncheon, then drove back through the rain to Springfield, arriving home a little past 1:30. Travel conditions were dreary, but I'll certainly take the rain over the snow that's been falling further north.

Sermon for Proper 27

Trinity, Mattoon--Matthew 25:1-13

At my age and stage of life, there is certainly plenty that I might complain about if I were the complaining sort. My body certainly calls attention to itself way more than it did twenty or thirty or forty years ago. I spend a lot more time in the waiting rooms of medical facilities now than I did then. But there a lot of things about life in my twenties and thirties that I would certainly not want to go back to. One of these is that the car I drive starts every time I push the start button and I’m virtually 100% confident that it won’t leave me stranded on the side of the road somewhere. That was not my experience in my young adulthood. Car trouble was just a fact of life. Now, part of this, I think, is just that they’re building a lot more quality into automobiles these days than they did then. But the other part is that I’m now blessed with the financial resources to religiously follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about scheduled maintenance. Nowadays, I actually get an email from my car telling me it’s time to take it into the dealer and have them do their thing—stuff that needs to be done not because there’s a present emergency, but, rather, in anticipation of a future emergency. The old saying, “a stitch in time saves nine” applies here. It’s not glamorous, it’s not fun, and it’s never urgent. It can always wait till “tomorrow.” But if we’re smart, we just do it, because we know that, over the long haul, it will cost us less time and less money to take care of things before they become problems rather than waiting until they become crises.

As we slide toward the season of Advent, which begins December 3, three weeks from today, the appointed scripture readings for the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays focus on one of the principal themes of Advent: preparation for the second coming of Christ and the Last Judgement. Today we have this parable from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel about the wise and foolish virgins, or bridesmaids, depending on your translation. We don’t really know very much about wedding customs in Palestinian Jewish culture in the first century, so it’s difficult to make sense of all the details in this parable. Why were these young ladies waiting for the bridegroom—shouldn’t they have been attending to the bride? Why was the bridegroom so long delayed? Would they really have had a wedding in the wee hours of the morning, just after midnight? Wouldn’t it have been a nice thing for the bridesmaids who had enough oil to share with those who didn’t? Would the bridegroom really have been so cruel as to deny the “foolish virgins” entrance to the wedding banquet just because they were a few minutes late? These and other questions might be interesting to bat around, but they’re ultimately unanswerable, which is really alright, because they have very little to do with the fundamental point of the story.

Five of these young ladies did their scheduled maintenance, and five did not. If the bridegroom had arrived on time, if everything had gone as expected, no one would have gotten into trouble. Everyone would have had enough oil for her lamp. The foolish maidens gambled on the probability that nothing would go wrong, and decided not to take the time and trouble to fill their lamps with oil. “I’ve got enough for tonight,” they said, “I can buy more during the day tomorrow.” For us, it might be like deciding not to take the time and trouble to make sure there’s adequate antifreeze in our cars at this time of year, gambling that there will be another mild winter.

The five wise maidens, however, took the precaution of making sure they had more than enough lamp oil to satisfy the expected demand. They were prepared for a contingency, for an emergency, for a crisis. When the bridegroom was late, it was a crisis for their foolish sisters, but not for them. They took care of routine maintenance, and they were ready for adversity when it hit.

It’s a great thing for us to take care of our homes and our cars and our bodies, not only when they obviously need work, but with preventive maintenance. It’s just good Christian stewardship of the assets that have been entrusted to us. But let us not forget that routine maintenance of the soul is also a good thing, and the reasons are all the same. It’s easier to prevent a spiritual crisis than to fix one. Now, spiritual crises can be fixed; there is a road out. So, if you happen to be in a crisis of the soul today, don’t lose hope. By all means, talk to Fr Jeff, or to me, or to some other Christian who is wise and experienced. But finding that road out is neither easy nor fun.

What do I mean by “spiritual crisis?” A spiritual crisis is when the normal or abnormal stresses of life cause us to lose our grip on what is ultimately important, what is really real. We feel as though God does not exist, or, if he does, is certainly not personally interested in us. Or we’re angry at him for allowing bad things to happen to us or to people whom we love, or are otherwise not deserving of such bad things happening to them. We get jaded, cynical, bitter. We become apathetic toward the development of our own character. We rationalize sinful and self-destructive behavior. If left unchecked, this condition becomes chronic, progressive, and fatal. We become detached from the love of the One who made us, and we end up, put simply, in hell—hell on earth, at first, and then hell eternally. The Second Coming of Christ, which this time in the liturgical year puts us in mind of, will certainly be a spiritual crisis for those who are unprepared.

The fact is, my friends, adversity will happen. It’s a given in human experience. Our capacity to be “faith-ful,” to remain oriented toward Christ, centered and grounded in him, will be tested and taxed. We don’t know when those moments are going to happen; they can come suddenly. Do you have enough oil in your lamp? Are you taking the time for scheduled and routine maintenance of the soul? Obviously, if you’re in this place at this time to hear me ask that question, the answer is, at least partially, Yes. You’ve probably heard me or other priests say this many times before, but attendance every week at the Sunday Eucharist, and making your communion, is the life blood of caring for the Christian soul. There is nothing more basic and fundamental than that, and it is virtually a waste of energy to be working on more sophisticated forms of spiritual practice when that elementary one has not been mastered. It’s like doing calculus when you haven’t learned algebra. It’s like fiddling with the centerpiece on your dining room table when you never manage to get the dishes washed. It’s putting the cart before the horse. When you reach the point that coming to Mass on Sunday is a habit—a habit of the heart as well as of the will—and not a weekly decision, you will have crossed a highly significant spiritual threshold. There are a lot of really good reasons for not coming to church on any given Sunday. I rarely ever hear a bad reason. It’s not bad things that keep us away from worship; it’s good things. But on the Lord’s Day, corporate worship is, as Jesus says, the “one thing needful.” I don’t want to drive this point into the ground; I realize I’m preaching to the choir. But I cannot find words adequate to convey how absolutely important this is.

Routine maintenance of the Christian soul also includes daily private prayer. It’s not as important what or how you pray as that you do it daily, whether you feel like it or not. When I’m working with someone on developing a life of prayer, they sometimes reach a point when they tell me, with some alarm, that daily prayer has become dry and boring. I smile inside when I hear this, because it is a sign of great spiritual growth. It is in the boredom of habit that the deeper things of the Lord can be communicated.

There are, of course, other expressions of spiritual health—acts of charity and service, good stewardship, the development of Christian character and the fruits of the spirit—but these are, as I said, expressions, manifestations. They are the results of routine spiritual maintenance, scheduled care of the soul rooted in Sunday corporate worship and daily personal prayer. With our lamps full of oil, then, we can face adversity without it becoming a spiritual crisis. We can weather the storm, secure in our faith, confident that, though it is often not God’s way to save us from such storms, it is most assuredly his way to be with us in and through them. Taking care of our souls through proper spiritual “diet and exercise” keeps us out of the spiritual emergency room.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday

Took some personal time the last couple of days, centered on attending an opera in Chicago, with train rides to and from, and some quality time with two of our children and those connected to them.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday

  • Task planning at home.
  • Kept an 8:30 phone date with a couple of lay leaders from one of our parishes.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with Paige on an ongoing video project that we're working on ... along with a couple of smaller items.
  • Refined and printed the script for this Sunday's homily (Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Took care of a relatively small but important admin chore related to Gnosis (our still-underutilized database program).
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Drilled more deeply into using Gnosis as a registration tool for diocesan events. Created several follow-up tasks. Several trips to Paige's office to chase down technological gremlins.
  • Began the process of planning another visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Tabora, sometime in 2018. Emails sent and responded to, tasks created.
  • Early-ish Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday

We concluded what some accounted "the best clergy conference ever" with lunch. I drove our two presenters to the airport in St Louis, and then headed home. Aside from dealing with a few emails, I've used these hours as downtime. Back in the office tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday (St Willibrord)

This was the one full day of the fall clergy conference of the diocese, held at Toddhall Retreat Center in Columbia (IL). Tom Bair and Bishop Gerry Wolf continue to provide stimulating content. We conclude midday tomorrow.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday (William Temple)

Up, organized, packed, and out of the house around 10:45. Brief errand at the office before heading south to the airport in St Louis. Retrieved our clergy conference presenters--actor Tom Bair and his wife, Bishop Gerry Wolf--and brought them to Toddhall. Got everybody oriented and settled. Evening Prayer, dinner, and then Tom's rather stunning one-man show, narrating the entire gospel of Mark in just ove two hours, with a 15 minute intermission. It is amazing to engage scripture in that way, rather than the piecemeal fashion we usually do.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Lord's Day (All Saints' observed)

If there's a good time to schedule a 6:15am departure from home, it's on the morning of the fall time change. That diminished the trauma of having to show up at St Andrew's, Edwardsville in time to preside and preach at their regular 8am celebration of the Eucharist. Between services, I had some valuable catechetical time with a rather large group of baptizands and confirmands and their coterie. At the 10:00 liturgy, we baptized one infant and one eight-year old, confirmed four adults (mostly young) and received four adults. What a harvest! After the coffee hour reception, I spent some time with members of the Mission Leadership Team and the Search Committee (priest-in-charge Fr Ralph McMichael is retiring soon after the turn of the new year). Home at 2:45.

Sermon for All Saints

St Andrew's, Edwardsville

I’ve always been particularly fond of the opening words of the Prayer Book collect for All Saints’ Day: “O God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord…” Knit together. It’s such a homely image; “homely” in a good way—comforting, familiar, “warm and fuzzy.” I don’t myself knit—hopefully you don’t find that too much of a shock!—but I’ve watched people knit—well, not “watched” actually, but been casually in their presence while they’re knitting—and I’ve always found the process rather amazing, almost magical. There’s a skein of yarn on the floor, with a line leading up to a person sitting in a chair wielding a pair of needles, usually looking quite relaxed and contented and able to carry on a more-than-decent conversation and possibly even follow the plot of a TV show at the same time. And then, pretty soon, I’m looking at a pair of baby booties, or a sweater, or a shawl, or some other product that has been “knit together.” It’s something tangible and coherent and useful. A ball of yarn is just a ball of yarn, but a sweater is … something.

So, according to the Prayer Book at least, God knits. God has knit together his elect, his chosen ones—and that would presumably include you and me—God has knit us together—we who are just a ball of yarn on the floor—God has knit us together in “one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [his] Son Christ our Lord.” It’s important to keep two things firmly in mind here: First, the “one communion and fellowship” into which God has knit us includes both those whom we would call “living” and those whom we would call “dead.” The line in the creed about the “communion of saints” means, among other things, that the membrane separating this world from the world to come is an awfully thin one. Second, the phrase “mystical body” is biblical and theological code language for the Church. Through the waters of baptism, we, the living and the dead, have been knit together in the fellowship of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

I take the trouble to remind us of these facts because it is of the nature of our actual human experience in actual human life to make us forget them. Instead of feeling like we’ve been knit together into anything, we’re more likely to feel like we’re unraveling. Unexpected misfortune happens—our favorite restaurant or store closes, our favorite team loses, the elections don’t go the way we think they should, the stock market tanks, the real estate market capsizes, seniors are forced to choose between the medicine they need and the food they need, we get an acid stomach when the first news we hear in the morning is something the President tweeted, or another episode of mass violence. The people in our life, from restaurant servers to spouses, let us down and fail to be what we need them to be. Too often, the people we need the most abandon us twice—first in their living and then in their dying. We experience loneliness and isolation and quiet desperation in abundance as we negotiate the hazards of life in this “broken and sinful world.”

In the end, we become depressed and cynical en route to terminal despair. This is the default condition of our society, my friends, and I’m not just talking about those who are on the margins—the poor, the homeless, those whose lives have been trashed by addiction. I’m talking about people who hold respectable jobs and live in respectable neighborhoods and who give every appearance of having their act together, of being on top of their lives. If nearly three decades of pastoral ministry have taught me anything, it’s to not automatically trust the façade. I’ve seen behind it too many times. Americans are endemically lonely. And it’s no wonder; we are the descendants of people who made some very risky individual decisions, leaving countries where their ancestors had lived for generations and heading into uncharted territory. Without a strong sense of individualism, they would never have made it. But there’s a cost. They passed on their individualistic DNA to us, and we’re lonely. Medieval Europeans knew something about being “knit together.” Theirs was a communitarian society, and, in many ways, it was a more natural fit with the Christian notion of being “knit together in one communion and fellowship” than ours is. So we’re lonely. And over the last decade or so, as we’ve become virtually glued to a virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else these is out there, that loneliness is only compounded. Loneliness, then, leads to cynicism, and cynicism leads to desperation and despair, and desperation and despair lead to violence and all sorts of other mayhem. So much of the world’s suffering is the result of violence, and so much violence is the result of desperation, and so much desperation flows from cynicism that is rooted in loneliness, a sense of being disconnected, unraveled, no longer knit together, no longer knit together in one anything, let alone one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we come back to the objective fact of our baptism, which on this feast day is a tangible sign of our connection, our being a part of something—not a skein of yarn on the floor, but a sweater, or a shawl, or at least a pair of baby booties. We have been knit together—knit together with Christ, and knit together with one another. We have been knit together with the communion of saints, the assembly of God’s holy ones, gathered around the heavenly throne waiving palm branches and wearing white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. We are no longer lonely, because we are connected to the mystical body of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Church—the Church Militant feebly struggling on earth, the Church Expectant being led from glory to glory in Paradise, and the Church Triumphant in Heaven, those whose heroic witness to Christ we especially honor today. We are no longer lonely because we have been knit together into a fellowship of love and prayer. People may let us down, but we have been knit into Christ. Troubles may multiply, but we have been knit into Christ. We are part of the one communion and fellowship of all the saints, a fellowship of love and prayer that forms a support system in this world and a celestial cheering section in the next. This provides us with abundant hope in this world and unending joy in the world to come. 

All saints, all holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday (Richard Hooker)

  • Task planning and some internet reading at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made some refinements in the script for a video we plan to record in the afternoon, #2 in the Seven Marks of Discipleship series.
  • First get-acquainted meeting with someone seeking to test a vocation to ordination.
  • Continued work on guiding Christ the King, Normal and St Matthew's, Bloomington toward the formal creation of a geographic Parish of McLean County. The devil is always in the details.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • One of the advantages of now having a Communications Coordinator is that I can up my game with respect to the kind of catechetical videos that I've made paltry attempts at over the years. So I spent time with Paige shooting the next in the "Seven Marks of Discipleship" series. Look for a link soon.
  • Too an hour to attend to some personal business.
  • Friday Prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday (All Souls)

  • Task planning at home, tough I got a bit of a late start out of the house.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Tried to handle a sudden flurry of emails on the fly.
  • Attended and participated in the semi-annual meeting of the Diocesan Trustees, who oversee our invested funds. We met with our investment advisor from St Louis.
  • Met with Fr Gene Stormer, a retired priest of the diocese who has done truckloads of supply, interim, and short-term work for us over the decades. He's recently been Sunday supply at Christ the King, Normal, and we discussed some of the issues in the community.
  • Met briefly with the Chancellor over a couple of emerging concerns.
  • Attended the 12:15 Mass for All Souls Day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Tied up a loose end with one of our Rectors, by email.
  • Processed some more late-arriving email.
  • Spent substantial exegetical time with the propers for Advent III, when I will preach at St Luke's, Springfield on December 17.
  • Did a bit of physical desktop cleanup and conferred with the Archdeacon on ongoing administrative and pastoral concerns.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Saints

  • Usual weekday morning routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday cathedral liturgy.
  • Dealt by email and phone with a substantial administrative issue.
  • Deconstructed and reconstructed a sermon text for Proper 27 from 1996, repurposing it for use at Trinity, Mattoon on the 12th.
  • Attended by email to a relatively small administrative leadership matter.
  • Took a phone call from Fr McMichael to talk through some of the choreography for this Sunday's liturgies at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Substantive meeting with Rod Matthews, here for some Treasurer work, but, in our conversation, wearing his senior warden of Christ the King, Normal hat.
  • Returned a phone call to a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Presided and preached at the cathedral Mass for All Saints' Day.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Attended to some work pertaining to two individuals who are ordained in other churches but who wish to serve as priests in the Episcopal Church. This is invariably a complicated process, requiring a lot of attention to detail.
  • Scanned what felt like a truckload of hard copy materials.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday

  • Weekly and daily task planning (and some internet reading) at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Met with Fr Newago in a regularly-scheduled monthly check-in about his mission strategy development work.
  • Began refining and editing my homily for this Sunday (St Andrew's, Edwardsville).
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took a call from one of our rectors seeking counsel on a pastoral issue.
  • Resumed and completed work on this Sunday's sermon.
  • Took a call from a reporter for The Living Church. He wanted to talk about the leadership governance situation at Nashotah House.
  • Attended to a bit of pastoral/administrative detritus.
  • Devoted a substantial chunk of time and focused energy on gently breaking up another logjam in the effort to form a canonical Geographic Parish in McLean County.
  • Plotted some actions toward integrating the the Gnosis database system more closely into our diocesan operations.
  • Two bits of administrivia.
  • Read and commented on the draft minutes of the recent diocesan synod, submitted by the Secretary.
  • Abbreviated Evening Prayer in the cathedral. (It was late.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXI Pentecost)

Crisp, cold, and sunny morning for a drive down IL4 to Carlinville. Presided, preached, and confirmed two young people. What a joy. Profound discussion with a college professor-parishioner after Mass about the current generation of students (Generation Z, who have never known a time without social media and smartphones) and their attitudes toward spirituality and religion.

Sermon for Proper 26

St Paul's, Carlinville--Matthew 22:34-46

While I was in seminary, about thirty years ago, I was first exposed to the concept of “family systems,” and it has loomed large in my mind ever since. One of the characteristics of a family system—and I could be talking about a domestic family, a school, an office, or a parish church community—one of the characteristics of a family system is that the behavior of its individual members is, if not determined, then, at least, affected by the mere position that one occupies within the system, as much as it is by one's own unique personality or abilities or inclinations. When we occupy any particular niche within a system—whether it be parent, or youngest child, or teacher's pet, or treasurer, or chief executive officer—the way we act is already scripted for us to a large extent, and we often accept the script and read our lines without very much conscious awareness of, let alone sense of control over, what we're doing. Our freedom of action is limited by the position we occupy.

I've often noticed in my relationships with family and friends how even my mood is determined by the emotional "space" that happens to be available. If Brenda is bouncy and cheerful, then I may say to myself subconsciously, "Well, that spot's taken; I guess my job is to be surly and difficult." Or, those of you who've ever been the parents of snarly and ill-mannered children, have you ever noticed how sending one child—it doesn't matter which one—sending one child to a friend's house for the night or to camp for the week, can turn the other (or others) Into a model of tranquility and cooperation? Position does inhibit our sense of freedom to behave and respond in ways that are true to who we really are.

There's a group called the Pharisees that usually gets a pretty bad rap in the New Testament, particularly in Matthew's gospel. But I have a theory that much of the less than admirable behavior of the Pharisees was scripted for them by the position that they occupied within the establishment of Judaism. Once in a while, someone like Nicodemus would manage to differentiate himself from the group and interact with Jesus in an authentically personal way, but, by and large, the Pharisees were "stuck" in a negative pattern of response to him.

Last week they tried to impale Jesus             on the horns of a dilemma with their question about paying taxes to Caesar. But Jesus slipped off the hook with his one-liner about rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's. This week, they’re at it again, and they entrust    their last and best shot, appropriately enough, to a lawyer. The lawyer asks Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" That is, which of all the 613 distinct commandments recorded      in the law of Moses stands out above all the others?

If there was ever a "trick question", a question designed to put someone to the test in an unfair way, this was surely one. Whatever answer Jesus gives, somebody is bound to think otherwise, and, if the Pharisee's have any luck at all, Jesus' credibility and popularity will begin to erode. You've heard the phrase, "Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer." This was a stupid question, and it did not deserve anything other than a cynical answer.

You and I, I'm afraid, have this much in common with the Pharisees: We ask "trick questions" of God, questions          designed to put him to the test and prove his worthiness to hold down the job. "Lord, is it that you just don't love country music fans enough to protect them from getting shot at by a crazy man with a machine gun?" Or, "Just what did the citizens of Aleppo do to deserve becoming the punching bag of both sides in a  civil war?" Or, "Why does something that happened in my childhood have to still make me miserable today?" Or, "How can you just sit by idly and let someone I’ve loved and trusted throw that love and trust into the trash?" Or . . . insert your own "putting God to the test" question in this space.

Jesus, however, chose this encounter with the Pharisees to demonstrate his compassion, and responded in a spirit of sincerity and depth far removed from the spirit in which      the question was asked. He combined two commandments—love God, and love your      neighbor—and suggested that the 611 remaining commandments make sense and find meaning only in the light of these two. Divine compassion, it appears, is capable of giving a straight answer even to a cynical and hostile question.

One of my favorite books on Christian spirituality is a little whimsical collection of short dialogues, as the back cover puts it, "between a man and his God." It’s called Why Me, Lord? One of them begins, "Lord, where were you when all those Christians were being slaughtered in Africa?"  You would agree, I'm sure, that this qualifies as a less than completely friendly question. It doesn't necessarily deserve a straight answer. But the Lord gives an answer that is both compassionate, and an invitation to deeper understanding.

“Lord, where were you when all those Christians were being slaughtered in Africa?"

            “In Africa.”

“They trusted in you, Lord. Why didn’t you save them?”

            “I did. And many others through them.”

There's more to it, but I want to read a few lines from the one across the page.

“Lord, why am I so weak?”

            “Because I love you.”

“It seems a strange way to show your love. But I know I’ll never understand you. Could you tell me a bit more?”

“I want to care for you as a mother and father care for an infant. I want you to love me with the trust of an infant. To choose me. I want to fill your self-seeking with my self-giving even to the last drop of blood. I want to fill your darkness with my light, your restlessness with my peace, your fidgeting with my stillness, your gloom with my joy, your weakness with my strength … shall I go on?”

After God answers our questions, even our "trick" questions, he subtly turns the tables, and becomes the interrogator. Now he asks the questions, probing and shedding light on our fears, our prejudices, and our misconceptions.

When Jesus answered the Pharisees' cynical question, and there was no response, he had one of his own. "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?"  The "correct" answer, of course, was "David's", because all the    Hebrew prophets had said that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, the archetypal king of Israel. But this is where Jesus snags them, because he proceeds to quote from Psalm 110, which everyone there would have presumed was written by David, and which says, in part, "The Lord..." [meaning Yahweh, God] ... God "said to my Lord..." [referring to the Messiah] ... "sit at my right hand." Well, everyone knows, a father is always greater than his son, so if the Messiah is a "son" of David, how is it that David calls him "Lord", and how is that he and not David is invited to sit at the right hand of God?

Now, Jesus was not just trying to mess with their minds, although he was undoubtedly doing that, he was trying to challenge their assumptions about how the Messiah was likely to act when he came, and to open their eyes to his own claim to indeed be that Messiah. The Pharisees thought they had the Messiah thing all figured out, but they didn't. You and I sometimes act—I won't say we think this, because we'd be fools if we did—we act as if we have the God thing all figured out.

But we don't.

God is not something, which we can package into an equation or a formula, but someone, someone with whom we have a relationship. Relationships are dynamic; they're ever-shifting, ever-growing. In relationships, we both know, and are known.

And the more secure we are in this mutual knowledge, mutual self-disclosure, the more freely and authentically we behave in our relationships. It's when we lack a sense of being truly known by those with whom we are or want to be in relationship that we rely on our position to determine our behavior, to script our behavior. When we are confident that we know as we are known, and are known as we know, then we are liberated to act consistently with our true selves, and not according to the script that came with our position.

Jesus's question about "Whose son is the Messiah?", then, is not merely a demonstration of debating technique, although it is that! It's an attempt on Jesus' part to liberate the Pharisees from their script, to free them from having to act only according to their position. We don't know how any of them who heard Jesus' question that day eventually responded. Matthew doesn't tell us. We only know that none of them dared to ask Jesus any more questions! But, however they responded, at least their response was a free one, because, in the course of their dialogue, Jesus had made himself transparent to their knowledge of him, and had shown in his penetrating question that he knew them as well.  Their response to him was based on knowing and being known.

I want to close with one more dialogue from Why Me, Lord.

“Lord, I don’t think I like you very much today.”             “I thought the air was rather chilly. What’s the problem?” “I’m fed up. In other words, I’m sick, sick, sick and I’m tired, tired, tired.”             “Of what?” “Of trying to do all the dreary things that you seems to be wanting me to do and getting no thanks for it from anybody.”             “Anything else?” “Yes, I’m heavy-hearted and hoarse from calling out to you and hearing only my echo. It’s as if you were one million light years away from me.”             “And do you believe I’m so far away from you?” “In my head I know you’re in my heard. But it doesn’t seem to make much difference.”             “Believe me, it does. You don’t usually notice your own heartbeat. But it makes a difference to you, doesn’t it?”             “True, but what I’m trying to say is there’s no fun in being a Christian anymore.”             “May I remind you that fun, through precious, is not an accurate measure of your spiritual growth? Do I need to bring to your memory the time that you were so full of joy that you became self-sufficient and nearly slipped away?” “Do you have to, Lord? I remember only too well. That was the time I was singing, ‘Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing’ and the devil came to me and said, ‘May I have the next quickstep?’”             “And he nearly got it, too!” “Thanks for getting me out of that one, Lord.”             “My pleasure. But I just wanted to remind you that elation can lead to over-confidence. I don’t want you to ever be downhearted, but at least you know your need for me at such times. I want to help you, for I know what it is to bear the burden. Didn’t I feel so weary I could weep? Was I a spectator on Calvary?” “Lord, you are the King who washes your servants’ feet. I’m sorry about my ingratitude. I really do like you.”             “Even love me? “Lord, you know all things. You know I love you.”

Thank-you, Lord, that we can know you, and that you know us.  Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ss Simon & Jude

The main work of the day was to unwind and get used to being home again after nearly a week and a half away. So ... two episodes of the new season of Stranger Things on Netflix, and some time on the treadmill in the evening to put me over 10K steps for the day. But I also refined and printed my homily for tomorrow at St Paul's, Carlinville, and performed reconstructive and plastic surgery on an All Saints homily from 1996 for use at St Andrew's, Edwardsville next week. Plus, three loads of laundry. And, of course, email.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday

Today took me back once again to the offices of the Diocese of Tennessee, but this time it was to gather with four other bishops and a like number of clergy leaders to talk about possible strategies in response to the proposals for Prayer Book revision that will come before next summer's General Convention. It was a fruitful meeting. I was on the road at 4:00 and home at 10:15. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday (Alfred the Great)

While yesterday was the meeting of the Living Church Foundation board, today was the meeting of the foundation itself, which is the larger group from which the Board of Directors is drawn. It was probably the most engaged and fruitful meeting of the foundation in all the years in which I have served. In a brief meeting of the board at the end of the afternoon, I was elected secretary of both the foundation and the board. I am honored to serve. After a break, we all gathered at St George's Church for a wine reception and a chance to mingle with some of the parishioners and some of the clergy of the diocese. It was a "friend raiser" for the benefit of TLC. Then, about a dozen of us went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday

From 9:00 until 3:00 I was at the offices of the Diocese of Tennessee in Nashville, attending the regular fall meeting of the Board of Directors of the Living Church Foundation. I spent part of the remainder of my day shopping (and buying a couple of shirts) at a Dillard's a few yards from my hotel, and then came back for--you guessed it--email processing. (Heaven and earth shall pass away, but email is forever.) Dinner, for members of both the board and the foundation, was at the home of Bishop John and Caroline Bauerschmidt.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tuesday

We got home last night from a wonderful weekend in the Twin Cities with our daughter and her family. This morning, I took time at home to process a stack of email and generally get organized, and then, at 11, pointed the YFNBmobile in a southeasterly direction. Arrived in Nashville, TN at 5:00. Dinner (bison pot roast, no less) with some members of the Living Church board ahead of tomorrow's semi-annual meeting.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday (Henry Martyn)

Up and out at 7:30am, headed northward with Brenda toward Nashotah House, where we arrived at noon. There was a pall of surrealism over the place, as one of the faculty members, Fr Daniel Westberg, was sailing on Upper Nashotah Lake yesterday afternoon when his boat capsized. It was clear pretty quickly that he had perished, but his body was not recovered until mid-morning today. Sadly, some aspects of life cannot be put on hold even by tragedies such as this. The Members of the Corporation were already on campus for our annual meeting, so we came to order as scheduled at 2pm. All was fairly routine, save for the results of the election and reelection of members of the Board of Directors, of which I have been the chairman for five years. I was not reelected. This is a shock--to me and to many others. There are complicated political forces in play, which is probably all I should say in this venue. It will take me a while to process this, but I can say that *part* of what I will feel is relieved of a great burden of time and energy that has gone into my board duties. But it is a shock.  The more immediate happier outcome is that I will not have to attend tomorrow's Board of Directors meeting, and we will arrive in St Paul, MN for a weekend visit with our daughter and her family earlier than planned. God is good.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

St Luke

  • Extended treadmill workout to begin the day. Short-form Morning Prayer in the car. In the office at 9:45.
  • Prepped to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Got into the weeds of a draft-in-progress of an agreement between the Eucharistic Communities of McLean County to form a Geographic Parish under our diocesan canons. This involved some consultation with the Archdeacon.
  • Got back to work, with some finer details now, on liturgical planning and preparation for next month's clergy conference.
  • Celebrated and preached the Mass for St Luke's Day.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Took a phone call from the Acting Dean of Nashotah House about a developing tragic situation there. It will be made public soon, I'm sure. Spent some time in prayer about this in the cathedral.
  • Tied up some loose ends re the conference liturgies.
  • Attended in some substantive detail to a couple of Communion Partners-related projects.
  • Short-form Evening Prayer in the car on the way home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday (St Ignatius of Antioch)

  • Routine weekly and daily task organization at home over breakfast. 
  • Logged on to an 8:30am conference call board meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr as I was backing out of my driveway. Continued on the call after I got to the office. Finished around 9:30.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Finalized email negotiations for the canonical examination of a candidate for the vocational diaconate.
  • Scanned and otherwise process a thick stack of accumulated hard copy materials.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • Attended to a bit of administrivia pertaining to General Convention.
  • Attended to a significant chunk of business pertaining to the Communion Partners.
  • Got to work on a small but important Nashotah-related project.
  • Responding to an expected phone call at 4:15, I headed home to meet a tree service about a problematic dogwood and redbud in our yard. It turned out to be a long wait, but I was able to finish the project I was working on while sitting on the front porch on a beautiful afternoon.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Lord's Day (XIX Pentecost)

Celebrated and preached the regular 7:30 and 10:00 liturgies at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Home around 1:30. Relaxed.

Sermon for Proper 23

St Matthew's, Bloomington--Matthew 22:1-14, Isaiah 25:1-9

While in seminary, most future clergy take at least one class in something called homiletics, which is the craft of preparing and delivering sermons. In many of these classes, students are encouraged to think narratively when crafting their sermons, that is to make each sermon like a story—not simply to tell stories from the pulpit, but to arrange what they want to say according to the elements of a good plot, as most of us learned in high school English classes; namely, a situation, followed by complications in that situation, followed by a crisis of some sort, and, finally, a resolution. Of course, really good preachers manage to hide all this from their listeners, most of whom would simply say, “It held my interest.”

Today’s gospel reading is a parable, told by Jesus. A parable, by definition, already is a story, and this one is particularly rich in the amount of detail it provides. So I’m not going to try and improve on Jesus! In this sermon, we’re just going to go with the flow, and map pretty closely to the shape of the parable. The plot of the parable will be the plot of this sermon.

The occasion is a royal wedding. The king’s son is getting married. It’s a grand occasion, a really big deal. The king has spared no expense in arranging for an over-the-top celebration, the social event of the decade. The invitations are already long since sent out and the RSVPs received. Everyone has had ample opportunity to “save the date.” The story begins with a customary personal “day of” reminder. Without the technology for instantaneous communication that you and I take for granted, the reminders are delivered personally by staff members of the royal household. The invitees, of course, are the A-listers, the cream of society … the socially privileged

Now, we might want to say a little bit about who Matthew’s original readers probably were. Leaving aside the question of who may have been within earshot when Jesus actually told this story, or something like it, who were the first people to encounter it in written form? Most likely, they were Jews, Jews who had become believers in the risen Christ, who were following him as the promised Messiah. They lived about 40 or 50 years after Jesus had walked the earth, so we’re talking about second-generation Christians. For us, it would be like Jesus was someone who was around in the 1960s or 70s. They still strongly felt their Jewish identity, and wanted to consider themselves part of Judaism, but their relationship with the larger Jewish community had grown increasingly tense over the years. Everyone still considered them to be Jews, but there was a great deal of heartburn around them, because most of the Jewish community, particularly the leadership, did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah.

So when they read this story, these folks would immediately, and correctly, identify the king who gave the wedding feast with God. The first set of servants who were sent out to deliver the day-of reminder notices about the banquet would have been understood to represent the prophets of the Old Testament. One of these prophets, of course, was Isaiah. So it’s understandable that the lectionary today gives us an Old Testament reading from Isaiah, a reading that describes a great banquet, a magnificent feast, at which there is overflowingly abundant food and drink, and at which all the guest have put any grief or sorrow or regret behind them, and know only consolation and joy.

So if those who deliver the final notice that the banquet is ready are the Old Testament prophets, what does that make the A-list invitees, those who had already saved the date and sent in their RSVPs? Well, these folks represent the people of Israel, the Jews, those who had all the advantages of the Covenant, the Law and the Prophets. They are the privileged one-percenters among the peoples of the world. Their job was to receive the blessings God had bestowed on them, and then pay it forward, to become a blessing to the rest of humankind.

All of a sudden, though, there’s a rash of last-minute cancellations, which is not something that any party-giver ever likes! They give various excuses, any one of which might have sounded plausible on its own, but when everybody seems to be in on it, it starts to seem suspicious, like when all the teachers in the same school or all the police officers in the same department call in sick on the same day, which happens to be in the middle of collective bargaining negotiations. The King smells a rat, and is understandably livid. He orders the complete destruction of the city where the ungrateful A-listers lived. His soldiers reduced it to smoking rubble. This little detail is certainly going to ring a bell with Matthew’s readers. They are going to remember—a memory that is rather fresh in their minds, actually—they are going to remember the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans, and they’re going to see a parallel. The implication here is that Israel, by and large, has squandered their elite status, their historic privilege, by rejecting Jesus as the promised Messiah, and that God has judged them harshly.

So, what happens now? Well, the party must go on, so the king sends out a second set of royal household staff members. They go out and finds B-listers, those who had not been socially prominent enough to get an original invitation. This strategy works, and enough of these B-listers come to the wedding feast to make it a proper party—the hall is filled. Let’s remember, though: They had no status that entitled them to an invitation. Their presence at the party was strictly a privilege, not a right, offered gratis, free of charge, by the King.

So, how are our early Jewish-Christian readers going to decode the B-listers? Well, they’re the goyim, the Gentiles, those not privileged, those who are without the advantages of the Covenant, or the Law, or the Prophets. In other words: Us. Remember: the B-listers have no claim of entitlement to any part of the party. It was all gravy. They did nothing to earn the high status that the A-listers had squandered. Christians enjoy the advantages of the New Covenant, not because we’re inherently superior to the Jews, or deserving of anything in our own right, but purely out of God’s free grace.

So we need to be careful about getting presumptuous about our status. And this leads us to the concluding section of the parable. If we dwell too literally on the details of the narrative, we may be overcome by sympathy for the poor fellow without a proper wedding garment. He got up that morning without the slightest inkling that he would be invited to a royal wedding; it was all very spur-of-the-moment. Can’t the king cut him some slack for not being able to find his white bow tie, or whatever it was? But we need to not let ourselves get lost in those weeds. It distracts us from the point, which is that even the B-listers needed to pay attention to basic social decorum.

So, who does this guy represent in the interpretation of the parable? He’s a DINO—a “disciple in name only.” He represents all the Gentiles on whom God has shed his grace by including them in the privileges of the Covenant, but who approach the banquet casually, flippantly, with a blasé attitude of indifference, not at all mindful of what has been undeservingly lavished on them.

Disciples in name only. They’re all over the place. They’re all over the church. They sit in pews on Sunday mornings. They are those who have accepted the invitation to the banquet, but have done nothing other than show up, who don’t even realize what they’re receiving. Jesus warns us in this parable to approach the heavenly banquet with purity of heart. This can refer either to final version of it, the one described so movingly by Isaiah, or, it can refer to the interim surrogate for the heavenly banquet, the foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb, which we call the Eucharist. How often do we show up at the Eucharist with an attitude of blasé indifference? How often do we present ourselves at the altar in a state of mental distraction, or with an attitude of entitlement, presuming upon some “insider” status that we think we have?

There’s a part of our Prayer Book that most of us never see or hear. It’s called the Exhortation. In days of yore, when the Eucharist was celebrated relatively infrequently by Anglicans, it was common practice for the parish priest to read the Exhortation on the Sunday before the sacrament was to be offered. Listen to this snippet:
For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord's Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct … ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
This describes the proper wedding garment in which we are to clothe ourselves as we approach the Eucharistic banquet. So, come to the party, come to the banquet. Your invitation, which is your baptism, will get you in. But let us all show our gratitude by not being DINOs. Rather, let us put on a proper wedding garment. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday (S. I. J. Schereschrewsky)

There was a little discussion around the budget, but since that was the only major item on the agenda, the final session of synod still only took about an hour. I sent Brenda home with some folks from the cathedral, killed some time with a lazy lunch at Portillo's, then got an early check-in at the Doubletree. With a laptop computer and a wifi connection I can be very productive, and I cleared my to-do list, along with watching parts of a couple of mediocre movies. At 5:00 I reported for duty at St Matthew's and dinner with Fr Halt and lay leaders from both of our McLean County Eucharistic Communities. We all seem to realize that it's time to move from conversation to action in St Matt's and Christ the King coming together for a common mission strategy in their geographic parish.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday

Out of the house with Brenda toward Bloomington around 9:30 (it was a long night in the baseball world). Arrived at the venue for the 140th annual synod of the diocese around 11:00. Checked in to our room, scouted out and got oriented to the meeting hall, had lunch, and gaveled the synod into session a little past 1:30. We got everything on the agenda done by 4:00, excepted for the 2018 proposed budget, which we will deal with tomorrow. Celebrated a votive Mass of Christ the King at St Matthew's. Back to the conference center for the usual banquet. The Bishop is tired!

Address to Synod, 2017

Bloomington, Illinois--13 October 2017

This is the seventh annual synod of the Diocese of Springfield over which I have presided as Bishop, and the eighth that I have attended. Serving you, serving our Lord Jesus with you, continues to be among the greatest joys of my life. Thank-you.

I continue to be supported by a small but omnicompetent staff. I once told Archdeacon Denney that he is my factotum, and he knows enough lawyerly Latin to realize that was a compliment; a factotum is someone who simply gets everything done, and, in Shawn’s case, important stuff involving lots of details that I earnestly don’t want to do! Sue Spring is equally detail-oriented, and any of you who have worked with her around insurance or pensions can testify to her prowess in those areas. Most of you never get to interact with Molly Henderson, our part-time clerical assistant. Molly is assigned the really, intensely boring things that virtually nobody wants to do, and she tackles this work with enthusiasm and good humor. And our staff addition this year, Paige Daugherty, our Communications Coordinator—well, I haven’t yet thrown anything her way that she can’t handle, so I’m going to just keep trying until I find her limit! If you haven’t yet met Paige, please take the opportunity.

Last year when I stood before you on this occasion, I regaled you—for an hour and ten minutes, no less!—with long stories from the sabbatical that I had concluded only a few days earlier. This year, I’ll be briefer and more conventional, and simply offer a sort of “state of the diocese” report.

Six years ago, at the synod in Belleville, we unveiled a Mission Strategy Vision statement that had been developed by the Department of General Mission Strategy, as it was known then. While much has changed over the years, this vision statement is, I believe, still vital, and I will use it as the template for my remarks, asking with regard to each of its components: Where are we? Where are we called to be? –or—What are we doing well? What do we need to be doing better? Then, a bit of a sidebar on some of the external forces that directly affect us but over which we have no control.

Our strategic vision statement begins with the claim that the Diocese of Springfield is one church. So here’s where I need to throw a little bit of theology at you, because that “one church” bit, when talking about the diocese, might be causing you to scratch your head or raise an eyebrow. The traditional theological understanding is that the diocese is the fundamental unit of the church. Why? Because the diocese has all the resources that are needed to be the church. In fact, in just a little while, as we’re gathered for the Eucharist at St Matthew’s, we will together be forming a living icon of the fullness of the church’s life—the community of the baptized, the ordained elders of the community, whom we know as presbyters or priests, the college of deacons, who represent the servant ministry of Christ in our midst, all gathered with the Bishop, who is a living personal link not only horizontally across space to other Christian communities, but vertically across time to the apostles and to Christ. While most here experience the church most frequently at the altar where they are habitually fed on Sundays, that experience is only possible because of the diocese. I’m the main exception to this! St Paul’s Cathedral is the closest thing I have to a home church, but I’m certainly gone from there way more often than I’m present, because by far the most important thing that a bishop does is to be the thread, the glue, that binds together the Eucharistic Communities of the diocese into one church. And some may be tempted to think that our brand name, the Episcopal Church, stands over and above us in importance. But please don’t ever think that we as a diocese are simply a regional subdivision of the Episcopal Church. It’s actually the other way around. It’s the various dioceses that covenant together to form the entity we know as the Episcopal Church.

So, yeah, that theology lesson was probably necessary, I think, because it’s not how we might be naturally inclined to understand things. But we’re making some progress: I’m going to be spending some time tomorrow and Sunday right here in McLean County working with the Eucharistic Communities of Christ the King and St Matthew’s toward developing and deepening a sense of shared mission and shared responsibility for that mission. I know that the Eucharistic Communities of Tazwell County—All Saints in Morton and St Paul’s in Pekin—are exploring their own call to be one parish in two worshiping locations. The congregations in Marion County—St John’s in Centralia and St Thomas’ in Salem—have also been bending in a similar direction. We are making baby steps. Sangamon and St Clair and Madison Counties, you have not been forgotten!

You heard me refer earlier to Paige, our Communications Coordinator. She has already given a steroid shot to our Facebook page and our website, and she and I are just beginning to sink our teeth into a database system that will help us make email communication and event registration at a diocesan level way more robust than anything we’ve been able to do previously. We also working together to up our game in the area of online video resources for catechesis and discipleship formation. I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to have someone in this position.

What else is working well to foster a sense of the diocese being one church? Cursillo certainly comes to mind. Some of you may have an impression of Cursillo as a niche movement with a fixation on returning to the 1970s. Well, think again. That was then and this is now. We have made significant strides in giving Cursillo in this diocese a fresh look and feel. Whether you are lay or ordained, if you have not been on a Cursillo weekend, just do it. To the clergy I might add, suck it up and do it. It can be a significant tool in your arsenal for the revitalization of your own parish community, but you need to know what you’re sending people to, and the best way to do that is to experience it for yourself.

Let me also say something about the St Michael’s Youth Conference. We’ve done it three times now, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re getting better at it each time. So, if you have kids in your church who are between 13 and 19, twist their arms or bribe them or whatever it is you have to do to get them to St Michael’s. I can point you to young people in this diocese for whom it has already been a hugely formative experience. We are making disciples of Jesus at the St Michael’s conference. Don’t miss out on it.

All this emphasis I’m putting on “one church” is not just a feel-good aspiration. It’s mission-critical. We need to be focused on mission, and we need to have each other’s backs as we do so. Along those lines, I’m pleased that the proposed budget that we will consider and vote on tomorrow has funds in it to continue our ongoing work in Cairo. What has happened there under Fr Muriuki’s leadership is nothing short of miraculous. Our Presiding Bishop has refocused Episcopalians on the work of racial reconciliation, which is nothing other than basic gospel work, and having diocesan financial skin in the game in Cairo is a sign of our partnership in that work.

… which leads to the next phrase in our mission strategy vision: “organized for mission into geographic parishes.” As I’ve already alluded to, we’re seeing progress in the geographic parishes of Tazewell and McLean counties. But, as you may recall, a year ago we adopted revised canons that provide tangible encouragement along these lines. Every Eucharistic Community is now required to submit to the Department of Mission an annual Mission Strategy Report. The statement this makes is that prosecuting the mission of the church is a grassroots, on-the-ground endeavor, carried out locally, and not orchestrated at 821 S. Second Street in Springfield. The format for the Mission Strategy Report is still being perfected, but you’ll have it soon. And if you’re in one of the three deaneries in the northern half of the diocese, you will have some special assistance in the form of a Mission Strategy Developer, namely Father Michael Newago, who is based at St Barnabas’ in Havana. It is on Fr Newago’s radar to be in touch with each of the rectors, vicars, and priests-in-charge in these three deaneries to set up some in-person time with your Mission Leadership Team.

Continuing with the vision statement: “… manifested in eucharistic communities and communities-in-formation …”  Nothing gives me greater joy than to celebrate the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day with the congregations of this diocese, especially when there are confirmations and especially even more when there are baptisms. I can see that we are being slowly but surely formed into the image of Christ by our regular participation in the holy mysteries of our Lord’s Body and Blood. That’s not news, I hope. But let me put a finer point on it, and mention adult baptism in particular. I’m convinced that the most significant metric of church vitality going forward into this post-Christian era in our society is the number of adult baptisms. I know inquirers and catechumens cannot simply be confected at will, but, if we are faithful in the pursuit of mission, they will be a natural by-product of our efforts. Will you not join me in prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit to prime the pump for us in this, to encourage us in our evangelistic calling, by sending us those who hunger and thirst for life in Christ, so that our baptismal fonts are never allowed to dry out? Pray that we may be found worthy for the Spirit to lead a growing stream of adults to us, of whom we can make disciples and bring them to the font. Pray that the Diocese of Springfield will be famous for the number of adult baptisms!

So, what do we need to keep doing and do better? We need to continue to focus, and focus more intensely, on turning baptized pew-sitters into equipped disciples, and turning equipped disciples into well-trained missionaries. About three months ago, Fr Dave Halt and I were sitting in a hotel lobby in Tabora, Tanzania with the bishop of that companion diocese of ours, Elias Chakupewa. He was explaining the way they do missionary work in their diocese. When parish clergy discern that someone may have a gift for evangelism, that person is sent to a diocesan training school for a three-month period of intensive residential formation with a cohort of others. Eventually, after continued discernment back at home, these folks are deployed as evangelists and catechists. They go into an unchurched village and start forming relationships (the diocese provides them a place to live). If the evangelist/catechist is successful—within a certain time frame; they don’t let it go on indefinitely—if the evangelist/catechist is successful in establishing a worshiping community, the diocese will send in a priest. The priest’s goal is to continue developing the congregation to the point where they can acquire a piece of land and begin construction on a church building. The evangelists who are successful at this form the pool of candidates from which priests are ordained. And the priests who succeed in their phase of this process are rewarded by—wait for it, now—being sent out of the diocese for a seminary education. So, by the time they collectively incur the huge expense of formal theological education, they’re not doing it on spec, they’re working with a known commodity, someone who has proven they have the gift and ability to do the job. What a concept!

Of course, Bishop Elias went on to tell us, “You can’t do that in your context,” referring mostly, I think, to that initial three-month residential training period. And he’s probably right about that. Well, what can we do in our context? That’s the question we need to be constantly asking ourselves. I have a couple of ideas that I’ve batted around with a handful of the clergy, but they need to be developed. In the meantime, maybe you have some ideas. If you do, please don’t keep them to yourself.

The final part of the vision statement: “… with a goal of being concretely incarnate in all of the 6o counties of central and southern Illinois.”  This is surely what’s known in the trade as a BHAG—a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and I will not see it happen on my watch as bishop. We’ve actually lost ground, with church closures in Hamilton, Edgar, and Effingham counties over the last seven years, and Richland County just before that. The challenge of rural depopulation is besetting all of our small-town eucharistic communities. This is a sobering trend. But, it has been shown time and again that churches can thrive in depressed areas. In fact, the pain of economically hard times tends to make people a little bit more vulnerable to the good news of God in Christ, I would think. So, let’s not take our eyes off the goal.

Now, just briefly, I mentioned Effingham. A few years ago, we had to close St Laurence’s Church there, and we sold the property. Effingham is a place where we should be able to sustain a Eucharistic Community, and it is my hope and intention to replant there. We could actually cobble together the financial resources to jump-start such an effort. What we lack, to be honest, is the right person, a called and gifted church planter. They don’t grown on trees. I invite you to join me in praying that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the right person to take up our work once again in Effingham.

There is much to rejoice in, then, much that we are doing well and faithfully, and also a great deal that we need to hold in our prayers in the hope that grace will abound.

Now, a brief word on external threats. Next year, 2018, is a General Convention year. We elected our Springfield deputation a year ago. This presents two concrete challenges:

There will be a report coming from the Standing Committee of Liturgy and Music regarding revision of the Book of Common Prayer. There has a been a great deal of online discussion about this—maybe you’re seen the Facebook group dedicated to the subject—but my own reading of the situation is that there won’t be critical mass of energy around staring a years-long process of thorough revision at this time. If I am right about this, having lived through the last revision process, I will be grateful! However, there is also a resolution that has already been written, coming from a different source, a highly-influential task force that was itself created by General Convention, to amend the Prayer Book in a very surgical manner, focusing just on the liturgy for marriage and whatever material in the catechism pertains to marriage. The result, if such a thing were to pass, would freeze out those who hold to the understanding of sexuality and marriage that is rooted in scripture and tradition, and continues to be the official teaching of the Anglican Communion. I believe that this resolution will sail through committee and would sail through the House of Deputies if it ever gets there. Of course, the bishops will have first crack at it, and while I won’t say that I’m optimistic that my colleagues in the House of Bishops will join me in taking the wind out of its sails, I have a significant degree of cautious hope that such might be the case. Do pray.

The other issue that concerns me for our sake is something that was actually passed by the last General Convention, but which will not take effect until 2019. Until now, the financial contribution of the dioceses to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which is the formal name of what refer to casually as the “national church,” has been styled an “asking.” In 2019, it will become a canonical assessment, no longer merely an asking. It has been nearly 15 years since the Diocese of Springfield has paid the full amount of what the General Convention has asked of us, owing to a combination of political forces and financial exigency; we’ve essentially balanced our budget on this line item as our income has dwindled. This is still a fraught issue for us, I guarantee you, as we will learn if someone choose to broach the subject in tomorrow’s discussion of the budget. But we need to know that we will probably shortly be considered outlaws. Truth to tell, the sanctions for non-compliance that are attached to the canon are not anything that would actually harm us, but our reputation, such as it is, would be harmed.

I think that’s it … and in about half the time as last year! Know that I hold you in my prayers daily, especially whatever Eucharistic Community I’m scheduled to visit the following Sunday. I trust you will hold me in yours as well.