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

Thursday

  • 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

Tuesday

  • 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 na├»ve, 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

Annunciation

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.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday

Compulsive exercise in the morning. A dozen or so work-related tasks on the afternoon, the largest of which was the drafting of a 1500 work article about my Camino experience for a magazine focused on health issues in a church context.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday (St Patrick)

  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Yet more consultation with the Archdeacon on insurance issues.
  • Phoned my doctor's office to arrange a prescription refill.
  • Read and responded to a couple of Ember Day letters from seminarians. Saw to a small bit of related administrative work.
  • Reworked an old sermon for Lent IV and repurposed it for use at Christ the King, Normal on the 26th.
  • Took a brisk constitutional down Spring Street, over to Second, and back up to the office. Spoke by phone to one of our clergy on an emerging pastoral/administrative issue while doing this. Yes ... synergy.
  • Attended briefly to another small administrative concern.
  • Began rough prep on my next Lenten teaching series presentation at the cathedral.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Finished the aforementioned Lenten teaching series work.
  • Conferred briefly with the Dean on a couple small matters.
  • Conferred briefly with the directress of the cathedral Altar Guild on a couple of small matters.
  • Spoke by phone once again with the priest I had talked to in the morning.
  • Took my homiletical message statement for Lent V and teased it out into a plotted outline from which I can create a draft text next week.
  • Took another brisk walk, this time west to Walnut, north to Edwards, back over the Second and down to the office. This Fitbit is making an exercise fiend out of me.
  • Friday prayer: Spent a "holy hour" (literally, more like a "holy 35 minutes") in silent prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. While I was there, prayed the evening office, just a bit early.
  • Consulted commentaries on the readings for Easter III, in preparation for preaching at St Bartholomew's, Granite City on April 30.
  • Dashed off an email to a prospective candidate for a parish vacancy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday

  • Began the day with 90 minutes of quality time on the treadmill. My new Fitbit device is making me a little OCD about exercise, which, on the whole, is a good thing.
  • Task planning over a late breakfast. Morning Prayer (short form) on the way into the office.
  • Devotions (intercessory prayer, Angelus) in the cathedral.
  • Responded to some last-minute email.
  • Took a call from a layperson from one of our Eucharistic Communities, sharing some substantive concerns. This is always tricky, because, when that happens, healthy boundaries dictate that I can listen, and offer counsel, but, unless it's a report that rises to the level of canonical clergy misconduct, I cannot act.
  • Had a substantive discussion with the Archdeacon on the unwelcome news that our property insurer (for the diocesan office and most of the churches) has fired us, and the replacement carrier is charging considerably more.
  • Attended via email to a Cursillo-related matter.
  • Kept an 1130 appointment with my optometrist, because my vision has been way on the wonky side of late. (Just ask anyone who's stood at the altar and pointed the missal for me recently.) I walked out having placed an order for new lenses and frames (and rather poorer). The prescription solution is something that includes a prism.
  • Lunch from Popeye's, eaten at home.
  • Kept a 2pm appointment with the blood bank for a donation of "double reds."
  • More discussion with the Archdeacon about the insurance issue. Should our buildings be covered for earthquakes. Well, in the southern part of the diocese, the New Madrid fault is relatively nearby, so ...
  • Trimmed, edited, and printed the working script of my homily for this Sunday (Lent III ant St Christopher's, Rantoul).
  • Evening Prayer (short form) in the car on my way home.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday

Up at an unmentionable hour to catch the 0530 shuttle from Kanuga to Asheville Regional Airport. (It was 18F, by the way, in the North Carolina mountains.) Everything went well, and, with a brief layover in Chicago, we were wheels down at SPI around 10am. I unpacked, grabbed some lunch at Chick-Fil-A, greeted Brenda as she returned from spending a few days in Chicago, took a nap, had a treadmill workout, processed a stack of emails, got into uniform and headed on over to St Paul's Cathedral for their Lenten supper and teaching (Session 2 of Peeling the Paschal Mystery). More email processings and task organizing after I got home. I officially once again have way more to do than I have time to do it in.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday

Fifth and final day of the spring 2017 House of Bishops meeting. And it was a humdinger. Read all about it here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday in Lent

And there was evening, and there was morning, the Third Day of the spring 2017 House of Bishops meeting. Read all about it here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday

It's snowing at Kanuga. 3-5 inches tonight, they say. Here's my report of Day 2 from the HoB meeting.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday

A travel day, pure and simple. Caught the 10:30 departure from SPI to O'Hare, enjoyed a sit-down lunch of pizza and profiteroles, and boarded the 2:10 flight to Asheville, NC. There were about a half-dozen bishops on that flight, having flown in from various quarters. About a dozen of us were gathered up into a bus sent from Kanuga, the conference center about a 30 minute drive from the airport. They were so efficient that they gave us our room keys right there at the airport, before we even got on the bus. Settled in now and awaiting a pretty demanding-looking schedule for the next five days as the spring 2017 meeting of the House of Bishops gets underway.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday

  • Arrived early at the cathedral/office complex to get vestments and venue ready for a scheduled 9:30 portrait photo sitting. With four distinct "costumes" and locations within the building, it was more complicated than you might imagine.
  • Customary devotions and short for of Morning Prayer.
  • I won't know if the formal portrait session was a success until I see the results, but I have a good feeling about it. By the time we were finished and I had everything cleaned up and put away, it was 11:00.
  • Dealt with a couple of relatively small administrative matters via email.
  • Did the "fine" prep for next Wednesday Lenten series teaching session at the cathedral. Early with it because I'm going to be out of town between tomorrow morning and that day.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Substantive phone conversation with one of our clergy regarding emerging pastoral matters.
  • Dashed off a 600-word "From the Chairman" article for the next issue of Nashotah House's quarterly publication. (Well, "dashed off" is too blithe a description; it was a bit more laborious than that.)
  • Did some surgery on a sermon text for Lent III toward the end of repurposing it for use at St Christopher's, Rantoul on the 19th of this month.
  • Solidified my tentative plan for covering the last Wednesday in Lent at the cathedral teaching series, as I won't be able to be there personally.
  • Evening Prayer (on the early side) in the cathedral.
  • Took a brisk walk up Second Street, around the north end of the state capitol, and back down on Spring.
  • Made travel arrangements to attend the April meeting the the Living Church Foundation board.
  • Joined the attending cadre of cathedral parishioners for a simple mean and a time of teaching. Hope by 7:30.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tuesday (Ss Perpetua & Felicity)

  • Walked into the cathedral for Morning Prayer, but found a team from the local Allen Organ dealer busy installing a speaker chamber in the (liturgical) west end of the nave. I formed an intention of retreating to my office for the business at hand, but found myself so distracted by a conversation with the dealer that it completely fell off my radar.
  • Followed up briefly with the Archdeacon on an administrative matter.
  • Followed up by email with the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities on an ongoing administrative matter.
  • Added another slight tweak to the draft job description for a staff member in communications before sending it out for vetting to a few key stakeholders.
  • Began my accustomed first step in preparing a "from scratch" Sunday homily (this one for Easter III at St Bartholomew's, Granite City): lift the entire project up in focused prayer, then harvest the appointed readings from lectionary sources and paste them into a Word document that, after many transformations, will end up being the document that I send to the printer, most likely on the Tuesday before the Sunday on which I have to deliver it. 
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Got back to the readings for Easter III (the fact that I'm starting on it so far in advance says something about my travel schedule in the coming weeks), making a few notes on each of them--just a few reflections, nothing that yet rises to the level of exegesis.
  • Took advantage of the bright afternoon sunshine to treat myself to a vigorous walk. Part of my motivation was the Fitbit device I bought yesterday. It probably ought not to be legal to sell those things to people who lean in an OCD direction. Just sayin'.
  • Because I'm going to be out of town between Thursday morning and next Wednesday morning, I made my initial preparations for session two of my Wednesday Lenten teaching series at St Paul's Cathedral ("Peeling the Paschal Mystery").
  • Evening Prayer in the (now empty) cathedral.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Sunday in Lent

With the liturgy at St Paul's, Pekin scheduled at the eminently civilized hour of 11am, I had a Sunday morning that felt self-indulgent, not needing to be out of the house until 9:30. Organist Lorraine Hartwell knows of my fondness for organ music and always has something edgy ("wild and loud," in her words) cooked up. We worshiped the Lord in beauty and holiness, "beat[ing] down Satan under our feet" in the Great Litany, enjoyed a pulled pork post-liturgical repast, visited with the people, and made it home around 3:00.

Sermon for Lent I

St Paul's, Pekin--Matthew 4:1-11, Romans 5:12-21, Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17, 25-3:7

One would have to be living under the proverbial rock to not know that the '60s television show Star Trek has become a major cultural phenomenon. The original show itself lasted only three years, but it has been many times more popular in death than it ever was in life.  First, it spun off a long series of feature-length movies, starring the cast from the original series. Then, a new TV series—with different characters but following the same theme—hit the airwaves in the late 80s. Eventually there are two spinoffs from the spinoff.  And now, in recent years, there have been more movies, featuring the original characters, but with younger actors playing the roles.

Well, since i can honestly lay claim to having been a Star Trek devotee from the very beginning, and since I'm … sort of ... a creative kind of guy—some of the time, at least—I thought, "Why not get into the act?" So I've gone ahead and sketched out my own idea for a Star Trek spinoff movie, and since I'm fortunate enough to have a job where I have a captive audience once a week, I thought I would run it by you all today and see if it flies. 

So here goes. 

Once upon a time, there was a special unit in Star Fleet Central Command that went by the designation RUST100—r-u-s-t 100. RUST100 was not what you would call an elite unit. They weren't commandos, they didn't use the latest weapons technology, they weren't based on a star ship like the Enterprise, or on a strategic space station at the edge of the galaxy. In fact, they were a completely non-combatant unit; they weren't supposed to fight at all. Their mission was to provide a very specific sort of logistical support. R-u-s-t stood for “replicator unit service technicians.” Replicators are the computerized devices that you can walk up to and say “mint cappucino, eight ounces, 130 degrees,” and out it comes. Occasionally, replicators can be put to serious use, like making blankets for a colony of refugees freezing on an asteroid, but their more frequent use it just to bring the morale-boosting comforts of Mom's home cooking to the lonely reaches of deep space. 

So RUST100 was essentially a collection of galactic Maytag repairmen. They roamed the galaxy, providing an eminently useful service, but it wasn't exactly a coveted assignment. RUST100's only claim to fame was that admiral Theos, the commander-in-chief of Star Fleet operations, had begun his career as a replicator unit service technician, and he always reserved a soft spot in his heart for the members of RUST100.  He felt a common bond with them, in the depths of his being, that he just didn't feel with other Star Fleet units, even though they were many times more glamorous and more visible and more apparently crucial than, as he affectionately called them, the “rusties.” 

Well, as was always the case, there was political and military tension along the frontier of the United Federation of Planets. They had made peace, successively, with the Klingons, the Romulans, and even the Cardascians, but now they squared off against the treacherous and power-hungry Hadesian empire. One day, the RUST100 unit was making its round of service calls near this border area, en route from a space station to a nearby starship. Crew members were doing whatever they could to relieve their boredom as their small vessel plowed its way on impulse power (that's "below the speed of light", for you non-trekkies) through the trackless wastes of space.

The first officer, Lt. Arboc, was fiddling with the ship's scanners—the 24th century equivalent of radar. Arboc was young and highly intelligent. He was an engineer by training, and he hoped that the time he put in on the RUST unit would do the same for him as it had for Admiral Theos. As he was casually and somewhat randomly trying out different electronic components and configurations in the scanning system, something very strange appeared on his monitor. To his horror, he saw a fleet of Hadesian warships arrayed in battle formation. When he checked the ship's main viewing screen, he saw nothing. In his puttering around, Arboc had apparently stumbled on a way of penetrating the Hadesian "stealth" technology that renders their vessels invisible to standard Star Fleet scanners. When there was time, he would have to figure out exactly what he had done, but the immediate question was what to do with the information he had discovered. 

Arboc went to commander Mada, the skipper of RUST100. "Commander, it looks like the Hadesians are on the verge of a massive invasion of Federation territory." 

"I agree with your assessment, Lieutenant, but I don't see that there's anything we can do.  We're travelling at top speed, but we're still two days away from the nearest other Star Fleet vessel. We're in full view of the Hadesians, who, no doubt, assume that we can't see them. But if we try to send out any warning, they'll intercept our message, know we're on to them, and destroy us immediately, still retaining the element of surprise for their attack, since it looks like they're ready to move at any moment. What do you recommend, Arboc?" 

The young lieutenant responded, "Sir, as you know, we are very lightly armed; this is not a combat vessel.  But ..." 

Arboc then went on to lay out an intricate and brilliantly conceived plan by which they would, with some minor modifications in their own communications system, turn the Hadesian stealth technology back on itself, throw them into confusion and, hopefully, cause them to de-cloak and expose their presence to all of Star Fleet. Commander Mada furrowed his brow.

"Do you think this will work, Lieutenant?" 

“Sir, i can't give you 100 percent odds, but if it does, I will guarantee you this: These Rusties will be instant heroes, and you'll be captain of a starship before you can say ‘James T. Kirk.’ We will have saved millions of lives and preserved the integrity of the federation.”

“You make a good case, Arboc, but have you forgotten who we are? We're service technicians! We have strict orders to actively avoid combat situations." 

"I'm aware of ‘who we are,’ Sir, but these are exceptional circumstances, the kind of circumstances on which Star Fleet careers are made or broken!" 

Commander Mada closed his eyes in concentration as he made the most agonizing decision of his career.

"Very well, Lieutenant, execute your plan." 

It was a disaster. 

The Hadesians detected Arboc's plan from the moment of its inception and blasted the Rusties into oblivion. What was unknown to Lt. Arboc  and Com. Mada was that the Federation was well aware of the Hadesian buildup along the border. The Hadesians were, in fact, falling into a very well-laid Federation trap that was almost, but not yet, ready to be sprung. By forcing the Hadesians to move prematurely, the "Rusties" had blown the whole operation, and enabled the Hadesian empire to gobble up one quarter of that quadrant of the galaxy, subjecting billions of creatures to their tyrannical rule. Shame and dishonor descended on all of Star Fleet. Admiral Theos was in agony that his own beloved RUST unit had behaved so rashly. If they had not been killed by the Hadesians, Arboc and Mada would certainly have been court-martialed. 

Many years later, Commander Ben Theos—yes, the son of Admiral Theos—finds himself the skipper of the RUST200 unit, making its round of service calls, as its ill-fated predecessor had, along the border between federation and Hadesian territory. This time, the first officer, Lt. Saduj, is attempting to relieve his boredom by loading a software program of his own invention onto the ship's computer. It's a program designed to de-cipher encoded messages. As he scans the airwaves, Saduj picks up a message on a channel frequently used by the Hadesians.  It's in code. He runs it through his software program, and, to his horror, learns that the Hadesians are once again planning a surprise attack on Federation territory. 

Saduj goes to Commander Theos. "Skipper, we've got to do something. If we fire all of our phaser banks at once ..." 

On this occasion, however, the commander of the RUST200 unit cut his first officer short. "Lieutenant, what you propose is tempting. But it's against orders. It's against our mission. It's not who we are!" 

An hour later, the federation sprang its trap, a trap of which the RUST200 crew had no knowledge, and the Hadesians were routed. Through one man's obedience, billions of souls were liberated from their oppressive power. 

Eve, God will be proud of you for having the courage to eat this fruit. Besides, it tastes so good!  Adam, God wants us to eat this fruit, and it sure tastes good. Go ahead, have a bite! 

Jesus, these are exceptional circumstances! You're hungry, and there's no food out here. Surely your Father will understand if you use a little divine power to feed yourself! 

"As one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." 

In the words of the hymn by John Henry Newman:
                       
                        O loving wisdom of our Wod!
                         when all was sin and shame,
                        A second Adam to the fight
                         and to the rescue came.
                        O wisest love! That flesh and blood,
                         which did in Adam fail,
                        Should strive afresh against the foe,
                         should strive and should prevail.

Amen.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday (John & Charles Wesley)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of a relatively small but time-sensitive task related to Cursillo.
  • Reassessed and revised the strategic plan for planting a Eucharistic Community-in-Formation in Effingham.
  • Assessed possibilities for resourcing congregations to more intelligently address issues of liturgical music. Plotted tasks.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a range of emergent concerns.
  • Lunch at home. Leftover.
  • Attended by phone to some personal doctor-related business. Not overly happy with the administrative apparatus of the healthcare system these days.
  • Retired to the cathedral to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Routine scanning and processing of accumulated hard copy items.
  • Substantive phone conversation with one of our rectors over some emerging administrative concerns.
  • Caught up on some internet reading--blog posts that I had flagged for later attention when I first saw them.
  • Took care of some formalities pertaining to the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, followed by participation in their regularly-scheduled Stations of the Cross on Lenten Fridays.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday (St Chad)

  • Extended treadmill workout (90 minutes) to begin the day.
  • Short-form Morning Prayer in the car.
  • Addressed an emerging pastoral-administrative issue concerning one of our clergy.
  • Initial rough prep for the first of my Lenten Wednesday teaching sessions at the cathedral ("Peeling the Paschal Mystery").
  • Initial meeting with an individual discerning a call to ordained ministry.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Made lodging arrangements for a night later this month that has me spending the better part of a weekend in BloomNorm.
  • Made another small bit of incremental progress in making travel arrangements for a visit to our companion diocese of Tabora this summer.
  • Wrestled with the scriptural texts for Lent V and wrung from them a basic message statement from which to craft a sermon. That is a mentally and emotionally laborious task.
  • Plotted homiletical prep between Easter II and Trinity Sunday. This involves determining which occasions lend themselves to a "refurbished" text that I already have in hand and which demand something from scratch. It was about 50/50.
  • Short-form Evening Prayer in the car on the way home.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made a few physical preparations and otherwise organized myself to preside at the 12:15 Ash Wednesday liturgy.
  • Attended to a couple of small details pertaining to an upcoming trip.
  • Sent a substantial email message to the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities in transition.
  • Revised, refined, and printed the working text of my homily for Lent I, this Sunday at St Paul's, Pekin.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Eucharist in the cathedral, at which there were about 40 people present.
  • Ash Wednesday is a fast day for able-bodied Episcopalians, in which category I like to include myself. Nonetheless, lunchtime, it feels to me, of about more than eating. It's about marking the sections of the day. So I went home and drank a bottle of Perrier while watching an episode of The Young Pope.
  • Back in the office, I worked on a substantive and more-sensitive-than-usual email to an individual in the ordination process. It consumed both time and emotional energy.
  • Responded to an email from one of our Rural Deans about goings-on in his deanery.
  • Read and made the difficult decision to round-file a request for financial assistance from an overseas diocese with which we have no prior relationship. It's a worthy cause, but we need to focus on the connections we already have.
  • Moved the ball down the road a bit in planning for a visit to the Diocese of Tabora in July.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. This time I worked through mealtime and and hung around the precincts until the 7pm second liturgy of the day.
  • Reviewed and proposed a couple of corrections to the draft minutes of the last Diocesan Council meeting.
  • Reviewed the annual report of ministry submitted by a military chaplain canonically resident in the diocese. (Such reports are canonically mandated for clergy whose ministry is not otherwise accounted for on a parochial report.)
  • Presided and preached at the 7pm sung Ash Wednesday liturgy.

Ash Wednesday Homily

Springfield Cathedral

Ash Wednesday is one of those occasions that seem simple enough. Its meaning seems obviously, intuitively self-evident—until, that is, you try to explain that meaning clearly and concisely. Then it becomes complex, and fuzzy around the edges, and we’re not quite as sure as we thought we were that we understand it all. 

There are several layers of meaning operating at the same time in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday. Part of what we’re doing, of course, is marking the beginning of the season of Lent. In a few minutes, I will invite you solemnly “to the observance of a holy Lent.” But Lent does not stand alone. It is not an end in itself, but the means to an end. It is supposed to get us ready to celebrate the Paschal Triduum—the three sacred days that connect us to the deepest realities of our lives as human beings: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter. 

The Easter Vigil is the watering trough of our identity as baptized Christians. It is the place to which we return time and time again for refreshment in the knowledge that we have been buried with Christ in his death that we may share with him in his resurrection. Lent originated as the “home stretch” of a long period of pre-baptismal instruction and formation, a process known as the catechumenate. Lent is therefore an appropriate time for us to develop a sense of solidarity with those who will be numbered among the saints, those whose names will be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, at the Easter Vigil this year. We do well to hold them in our prayers, and to walk with them in these final days leading up to new birth, and thereby renew our participation in our own new birth.

The mystery of Lent is therefore much larger than a narrow focus on sin and repentance. But that is certainly where the emphasis is at the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday. This is the reality which the ashes that will be applied to our foreheads signifies. Sin is the 900-lb gorilla in our jungle, the elephant in the living room, and it is ridiculous to ignore it. 

Sin has a cosmic dimension. It infects every corner of the created universe. We are all therefore victims of it. Those who have had their lives recently upended by flood waters in California or drought in Tanzania are certainly not victims of anyone’s particular sin, especially their own, but they are surely victims of universal sin. 

Sin also has a social dimension. In social sin, the victims are individual, but the perpetrators are corporate, a collective “we.” To give a rather extreme illustration: I personally do not either use or buy or sell illegal drugs. But as a participant in a national and international economy of which drug trade is a part, some of the money that flows through my pocket has at one time or another been used to pay for illicit drugs. It’s inescapable. So when a baby is born addicted to opioids, I am part of the “we” that is responsible for that tragedy. That’s the way social sin operates. Those of us here today who trace our ancestry to Europe may not have a racist bone in our bodies, but we all benefit—we can’t help but benefit—from a society that sees whiteness as the norm and anything else as the exception to the norm. We get to go places and do things that people of color have to think twice about. We benefit from societal racism, even if we don’t behave in racist ways ourselves. You and I are both victims and perpetrators of social sin. Part of our repentance tonight is for that sort of sin.

Sin also has, of course, a very personal dimension. Each one of us is individually guilty of doing those things which we ought not to have done, and leaving undone those things which we ought to have done. And at an individual level, sin is wickedly deceptive. It’ s like the Trojan Horse, sneaking into our hearts disguised as common sense or justice or beauty or love, and then spilling its vile contents into our souls in a desperate attempt by the Evil One to draw us away from God. The frightening truth about personal sin, individual evil, is that I cannot even trust my own feelings and intuitions. They are tainted, and cannot be relied upon apart from the objective standard of God’s revealed word. What “feels right” to me may be the very face of death itself, and I need to run 180 degrees in the other direction.

Turning 180 degrees around. That takes me to the third level of meaning that is operating in today’s liturgy. Turning around is itself the very definition of repentance. When we run away from sin and evil, we find the open arms of Jesus waiting for us—Jesus, the Prince of Light and Life. Jesus, in his redeeming love, supplies us with the strength we need to persevere in our repentance. He does this through the witness of scripture, in the communal life of the church, and—most openly and gloriously—in the Mass, the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus is not merely an example or a coach or a cheerleader. He’s more than just moral support. He gives us his own self, his very life, the meat on his bones and the blood in his veins.

To receive the ashes that mark us as mortals and as sinners without also receiving the Body and Blood by which we are redeemed is to tell and hear only half the story. Before God, we stand overdrawn, bankrupt. But the miracle of gospel grace is that the creditor steps down into the place of the debtor, and pays the debt. The sacramental elements of the Eucharist are the sign and seal and actual conveyance of that payment. We have the resources necessary to the keeping of a holy Lent, and a holy life thereafter. 

Amen.