Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tuesday

Accounting for today is not a challenge: I spent it getting ready to leave with Brenda tomorrow for Tanzania, where we will be joined in our companion diocese of Tabora by Fr Dave Halt and three of his parishioners from St Matthew's, Bloomington. On Sunday, it will be my honor to preach at St Stephen's Cathedral in Tabora as the diocese gathers for its triennial synod. Then, leveraging our position in that part of the world, the five of us will spend a couple of days visiting a game reserve in the Serengeti, which lies just to the north of Tabora province. We return home on July 9 and I will resume entries in this space a couple of days later. In the meantime, look for fairly regular reports on Facebook.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Lord's Day (III Pentecost)

Greeting the morning in the brand new Hampton Inn in Alton, it was a short drive to Trinity Chapel for their regular 0815am liturgy. Attendance was north of 30, which was very good by local standards. Then it was down the hill for the 1030am Mass at St Paul's. There was one adult confirmand, who promptly repaired to the choir loft and rendered a beautiful solo anthem at the offertory. Spirits seem to be good in the parish under the leadership of Mother Cindy Sever. After hanging around coffee hour for a bit, I hit the road south on I-55 back to Toddhall. (It's about a 45 minute drive at full interstate speeds.) I was a couple of hours early for the Cursillo closing Mass, so I found a comfortable seat and an internet connection and got some work done--principally, finishing my next post for the Covenant blog. I then presided and preached at a 0400pm votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. In many places, the Cursillo movement has run its course, but not yet, I'm pleased to say, in the Diocese of Springfield. There were 12 energized cursillistas, a large and hard-working team, and great progress away from the cultural accoutrements of the 1970s that threatened to fossilize the movement. Back on the road at 0525 and home by 0715.

Sermon for III Pentecost (Proper 7)

Alton Parish--Matthew 10:24-34, Jeremiah 20:7-13

When I turned 18, the age of legal adulthood, our country was deeply involved in armed conflict in Vietnam. Now I’m 65, a point where I can no longer plausibly call myself middle-aged, and U.S. forces are regularly deployed overseas and placed in harm’s way. There has hardly been a time between my youth and my old age in which we have not been at war in some way or another. And it has always been controversial. Vietnam certainly was, and our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Syria and Somalia and other places, has been a source of deep domestic conflict. We would have to look just a few years before I was born to find a war that virtually everybody could get behind as a just cause, unquestionably worthy of the spilt blood of our armed forces.

Indeed, in retrospect, and having recently observed the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, the just-ness of our campaign against Adolf Hitler and Nazism seems to increase as time goes by. There is something about a worthy and noble cause that inspires the human spirit to rise to extraordinary levels of commitment and sacrifice. Among those who are bound to that cause, a feeling of closeness and kinship develops. Courageous and eloquent words get written and spoken—think of the moving speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt. People keep their eyes on the prize, and are moved to endure all manner of deprivation and hardship for the sake of that vision.

And it’s not only war, thank God, that can produce this sort of behavior. A political campaign can have the same effect on people. Those involved in the same educational or career path can experience their common calling as a holy mission, a response to a divine vocation.

The notion of being called by God—whether it’s a nation or a church or an individual or whatever—the notion of being God’s chosen instrument for a particular purpose at a particular time—whether it’s saving the world from Hitler, or ridding a schoolyard of drug-traffickers, or teaching a Sunday School class—the idea of vocation or calling stirs us in the deepest recesses of our souls. And as I said, the urge to follow such a calling is compelling, virtually irresistible, even when doing so entails great personal cost. Think of all the people who voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces right after 9-11.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah certainly had this experience. Like most young men of his time, he did not grow up with the ambition of being a prophet of the Lord. But the word of the Lord came to him one day, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you: I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah protested that he was too young and inexperienced to take on such important work, but the Lord would not take No for an answer: “Do not say, ‘I am only a child,’ for you must go to all to whom I send you and say whatever I command you.” So Jeremiah had his call, his vocation, his mission from God, and he went about his work with zeal and with enthusiasm.

The original readers of St Matthew’s gospel are certainly also among this number.
They were, for the most part, Jewish Christians. They had been brought up to expect a Messiah, a Savior and Deliverer. And they were convinced that they had found this Messiah in Jesus. It is in Matthew’s gospel that we find the vocation, the calling, of these early believers. It is known as the Great Commission, and is now understood as the general marching order for the whole church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

There comes a time, however, in every war, in every political campaign, in every educational or career path, when the going gets tough. Communication miscues and logistical foul-ups produce battlefield setbacks. Scandals and dirty politics and just plain failure to get your message across convincingly translates into grim news from the opinion pollsters. Educational and career plans are short-circuited by romance or childbirth or just “life” in general.

Jeremiah ended up publicly humiliated, his prophetic words rejected. He was even thrown to the bottom of a well and abandoned there until his friends rescued him several days later. Churches and Christian ministries inevitably run into difficult times, and the temptation is strong to abandon a sense of mission and adopt a survivalist mentality— whatever will “keep the doors open,” maintain the viability of the institution. Maintenance is valued ahead of mission.

Then, just when it seems like things could not possibly get worse, they do. The going gets tougher. The military command and control structure disintegrates,
and the battlefield turns to chaos. The polls close, the ballots are counted, and the cause loses, plain and simple. The semester grades arrive, or the annual performance review happens, and what was once a promising career reveals itself to be just a square peg in a round hole.

That must be how Jeremiah felt as his prophetic ministry— a ministry of communicating not-so-good news which irritated just about everybody, including the king—that must be how Jeremiah felt as his prophetic ministry got going. He thought of quitting and finding another career, but he couldn’t. Being a prophet was his vocation, his calling. Listen to his words in the arresting translation of the Revised English Bible: “You have duped me, Lord, and I have been your dupe; you have outwitted me and prevailed. ... Whenever I said, ‘I shall not call it to mind or speak in his name again,’ then his word became imprisoned within me like a fire burning in my heart. I was weary with holding it under and could endure no more.”

“You have duped me, Lord.”

How about that?

The Jerusalem Bible says, “You have seduced me.” The annals of church history are littered with the names of individual Christians, and groups of Christians, who could give the very same testimony, those who could say they have been duped and seduced by the Lord into a ministry no one his or her right mind would have chosen.

Perhaps there are some of you who can identify with this experience. Matthew’s Jewish Christians certainly could. They had been brought up as devout Jews, and wanted to remain devout Jews. But the leaders of the Jewish religious establishment did not share their conviction about Jesus being the long-expected Messiah, and made it increasingly difficult for Jewish Christians to remain part of Jewish national and cultural and religious life. By the eighth decade of the first century, it had turned into full-blown persecution. These Christians were suffering ostracism, deprivation, and death at the hands of their own countrymen. But here’s the deal: They believed in their cause. They believed they had a divine vocation. They believed they were on a mission from God. So they counted the cost, and kept the faith. And they found out what the neon sign in front of scores of skid row missions once proclaimed (you don’t see it so much anymore): Jesus saves.

Jesus saves.

The gospel of Matthew was written for a people tempted to surrender,
to give up the cause. In a nutshell, the message is this: “Things look bad, but God knows better. In the end, God wins.” Or, as Matthew records Jesus putting it:
“Even the hairs on your head are numbered. Fear not … [E]veryone who acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge before my father who is in heaven.” In other words, God never abandons those who pursue the mission to which he has called them. There will be moments when it feels as though he has done exactly that. It is uncomfortable and lonely at the bottom of a well. It is uncomfortable in the smoke of battle, especially when it’s evident that you’re on the losing side. It is uncomfortable, for that matter, nailed to a cross. Jesus knows that. He himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But we have both the sign and the seal of his assurance that appearances can deceive, that one battle does not a war make, that we will be rescued from the bottom of the well, that the cross is not the last word. The sign of this promise is found in the words of today’s gospel reading: “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The seal of this promise is found in the event of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, which is the reason we are here today, the reason Christians have gathered to celebrate the Eucharist on over ten thousand consecutive Sundays. God never abandons those who pursue the mission to which he has called them.

Staying faithful to mission—not surrendering to discouragement, despair, or dysfunction, not settling merely for survival or maintenance—this is not only a way to stay close to God, it is the only way to stay close to God. And it is certainly ample cause for giving thanks in this celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nativity of St John the Baptist

  • Out the door and on the road at 6:50am. Arrived at Toddhall a little over two hours later.
  • Presented the Sacraments rollo at Diocese of Springfield Cursillo XXXV.
  • Celebrated (and preached) Mass for the feast day with the Cursillo weekend community.
  • After lunch at Toddhall, headed north on I-255 toward Alton, where I checked in at the Hampton Inn around 2:15. 
  • Got some rest, worked on my next Covenant article, and continued to fiddle with technology in the wake of IQTell's announced shutdown. (For those who are interested, it looks like I'm on a glidepath toward a combination of the Newton email client and the task app Todoist.
  • Met for dinner with the Rector and Mission Leadership Team of the Episcopal Parish of Alton. Had an after-meeting with the Rector and Wardens.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday

  • Struggled again with planning software. Maybe on a glide path to a solution. Trying it out.
  • Substantive scheduled phone conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Reviewed and commented on bulletin drafts for my visitation to Alton Parish this weekend.
  • Arranged for an onsite visit to the workplace (a faith-based nonprofit) at which one of our diaconal postulants is the Executive Director.
  • Refined, edited, and printed my homily for July 2, which will be delivered, God willing, in St Stephen's Cathedral, Tabora, Tanzania, on the occasion of the Diocese of Tabora's triennial synod.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Caught up on my diary blogging from yesterday.
  • Dealt with some more Nashotah-related business.
  • Got started on developing the rough sketch of my next post on the Covenant blog.
  • Made air travel arrangements to attend the September meeting of the House of Bishops in Fairbanks, Alaska. The American Airlines website was uncooperative, so I have to do this by phone. Not as easy as it used to be.
  • As a Friday prayer practice, spent some time with the Hymnal 194o at the bench of the cathedral organ. Quite a spiritually rich time, actually.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dispensed with a slew of late-arriving emails.
  • Returned a phone call from a priest outside the diocese who is seeking some pastoral care.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday (St Alban)

  • On the treadmill from 6:30 until 8:00.
  • Began task planning after cleaning up, which was complicated immeasurably by the news the previous day that the web-based integrated personal organization software I've been using for email, task planning, and contacts is ceasing operation at the end of next month. So a lot of my time was devoted to researching potential replacements. Life is challenging enough without this sort of infrastructure snafu.
  • Logged on 15 minutes late to an 8:30 conference call board meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. Took myself off the call at 10:10, and it wasn't even finished yet!
  • Met with Paige for a bit over some routine concerns about her workflow.
  • Messed around looking for software.
  • Signed and sealed the certificates for this evening's diaconal ordinations.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • More software searching.
  • Accompanied Brenda to a 2:30pm doctor's appointment.
  • Got home just in time to leave again at 4:15, headed toward Champaign.
  • Arrived at Emmanuel at 5:45, ahead of a 6pm liturgy rehearsa.
  • Ordained Alan and Diana Wakabayashi to the transitional diaconate. They are headed to St Luke's, Gladstone, NJ to serve their curacy.
  • Home at 10:45. The pace of travel is starting to get to me, but there will be no respite for a couple of weeks yet.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday

Back home, which seems pretty exotic after all the travel I've been doing. It will be short-lived, however, as a trip to Tanzania looms next week.
  • Morning Prayer and task planning for what's left of the week at home. Learned the disconcerting news that my primary personal organization software (IQTell) is going out of business the end of next month. This is a significant blow, as there's nothing quite like it.
  • Accompanied Brenda on a visit to her primary care physician.
  • Back at home, sent a lay leader three of my sermons to use on Sunday's when his Eucharistic Community's priest will be on vacation.
  • Met with a handyman over of a couple of projects we need taken care of at home.
  • In at the office around 10:45, in time to get settled in and meet at 11:00 with Jason and Lisa Cerezo, who currently publish the Current and manage our website, along with Sue and Paige, to begin handing off their duties to Paige. It seems to have been a successful meeting.
  • Ducked out before the meeting was fully over to begin preparing to preside and preach the midday cathedral Mass. Had an substantive exchange with the Dean on another matter while doing so.
  • Presided and preached at said Mass.
  • Stopped by HyVee for some Chinese food (apparently they were voted the "best Chinese restaurant in Springfield for 2017." Go figure. At it at home.
  • Back in the office, puttered around a bit looking for alternatives to IQTell. This can get pretty time-consuming, but I know myself well enough to know that I will obsess on it until there is a new homeostasis.
  • Refined, edited, and printed my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at the Episcopal Parish of Alton.
  • Checked in briefly with Sue and Paige as they were paying for and downloading the Adobe software Paige will need for the Current.
  • Dealt with some personal/family health insurance details.
  • Dealt with some details pertaining to the next House of Bishops meeting, which will be in September, in Alaska.
  • Messed around a bit more looking for productivity software.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Lord's Day (II Pentecost/Corpus Christi)

Up and out of the Hampton Inn in time to be at the Church of the Holy Communion at 9:30, an hour ahead of the day's single scheduled Mass. It was my honor to preach on the occasion of Fr Dow Sanderson concluding his 18-year tenure as rector of that historic parish. We then took part in the gala luncheon, at which Sanderson was lovingly "roasted." It was after 2:00pm by the time we left, and a nap was desperately needed. After napping, Brenda and I did a little walking around the area, a little more resting back in our room, and then joined Fr Andy and Nancy Mead for dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. Fr Mead is a friend from mutual service on the Nashotah House board, and I've been eager to meet Nancy because of our mutual interest in walking, at which she has a much more impressive résumé than I do. Tomorrow we're going to take an "us" day and enjoy the area before flying home on Tuesday.

Saturday

Arrived with Brenda back at St Michael's in time for Morning Prayer, and a last music rehearsal with the Michaelites. Taught them the Healy Willan Gloria, which is a bit challenging, but well-rewarding of the effort. They came through like champs. Celebrated a votive Mass "Of the Holy Angels" with the kids and some of their parents. Then we said goodbye. What a great week with everyone. I'm so excited about this ministry of the diocese. 

Brenda and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Ruby Tuesday in Fairview Heights. Then, with time to kill, we spent an hour or so at the St Louis Zoo before heading to the airport. Our 5:49 departure to Atlanta was slightly delayed, but our scheduled 10:10 departure from Atlanta was delayed by about 45 minutes due to crew availability issues. This put us into Charleston at nearly midnight. By the time we got our luggage, into our rental car, and at the Hampton Inn in the historic part of the city, it was nearly 1:00 AM. Then we discovered that an inattentive TSA agent, having determined that I am not a terrorist, locked my suitcase. Since I don't ever lock my suitcase, I had neither a key nor a combination. A helpful hotel maintenance employee solved our problem with a pair of bolt cutters. The TSA won't be locking my suitcase anymore.

Sermon for Corpus Christi

Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, SC

I can’t not begin by saying what a joyful privilege it is to be back at the Church of the Holy Communion, and how utterly honored I am that Father Sanderson invited me to be the preacher for this momentous occasion.

Liturgically, we’re keeping the feast of Corpus Christi today; Corpus Christi—Latin for “Body of Christ,” which is arguably the feast-of-title for this parish. It celebrates the gift of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist—more specifically, the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. In the celebration of the Mass, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, is re-membered. Vocal inflection is important here—we don’t just “remember” the Body of Christ, in the sense of conjuring up a certain mental image of a past event, we re-member it. That is, the various members of the Body of Christ, the community of the baptized, are brought together, called together, by God the Holy Spirit. So, we begin to re-member the Body of Christ just by showing up, by inhabiting this sacred space for a sacred purpose. Then, we continue to re-member the Corpus Christi in the Liturgy of the Word, when we hear and attend to the sacred writings of our gathered family, that which has been handed along to us by past generations of disciples of Jesus. Finally, we re-member the Body of Christ as we re-present the “crucial” sacrifice of Christ—you know where that word “crucial” comes from, right?; it’s been adopted into our language as a metaphor for anything that is of absolutely fundamental importance, but it’s derived from the same Latin word from which we get “cross,” because the cross is of absolutely fundamental importance—we re-member the Body of Christ, the Corpus Christi, when we re-present the crucial sacrifice of Christ, in union with our own sacrifice of “praise and thanksgiving,” along with “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” which is all familiar language to you because it has been spoken by celebrants at this altar Sunday by Sunday and Holy Day by Holy Day across the span of decades for well over a century.

Sacrifice, of course, requires a priest; that is its nature. Jesus is himself our Great High Priest; in fact, both priest and victim in the eucharistic sacrifice, as we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews and from one of our more beloved hymns. But, in the earthly liturgy, there must be an alter Christus—“another Christ”—one among the baptized Faithful who is set apart to re-present Christ in the Church’s eucharistic re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ. We need a visible host for the meal. Those who are so set apart we know as presbyters, priests. Dow Sanderson has devoted a major chunk of his life, which I know he considers a blessing, to serving as the principal priest, the alter Christus, in this parish. He has stood at this altar countless times, representing God to the people and the people to God, as word-proclaimer and bread-breaker, the one who in his person re-members the Corpus Christi here on Ashley Avenue every Lord’s Day and Holy Day.

But, within parish communities, this priestly ministry of re-presenting Christ extends well beyond the celebration of the liturgy. The parish priest im-personates Christ—not fraudulently, of course, but in sincerity and truth. When I use the word “impersonate,” don’t miss the connection between “person” and “parson,” which is a somewhat archaic but still very rich word that has been used to refer to members of the clergy who are embedded in the life of the community they serve. Father Dow has been the parson here because, in his person, he has been an extension of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I can’t help but make a connection here with the image of God that I held in my imagination as a young child. I imagined God as about a 35-year old man in a tan suit and a paisley tie who lived in the bell tower of the Baptist church that I attended with my family. Now, I know your Rector to have a passing acquaintance with bow ties, paisley or not, and he may or may not have ever camped out in the bell tower, but those aren’t the important factoids here. The important connection is that Fr Dow has been the “parson” at the Church of the Holy Communion.

Part of our work—part of our “liturgy” this morning is to release him from that role. In ancient Greek drama, the actors all wore masks, which is how the audience could readily recognize who they were impersonating. The Greek word for these dramatic masks is prosopon, which makes it into Latin as persona, and into English, then, as person. So, today, we are allowing Dow Sanderson to lay aside that mask, that persona, that he has worn so faithfully. And, quite frankly, he probably needs us to assist him in releasing himself. It isn’t easy, for Fr Dow or for the rest of us for whom he has become not only the face but the heart and soul of this parish. If you’re at all like me, you’ve become accustomed to subconsciously identifying people with the car that they drive. When I drive into the parking lot of the Diocese of Springfield, I am aware immediately of whether the Archdeacon or the Administrator or the Communications Coordinator or the Cathedral Dean or the Dean’s office manager are there or not. I suspect that driving up Ashley Avenue and not seeing Fr Sanderson’s car will seem very strange to most of you for quite a long time.

Yet, we know that Fr Dow is but a deputy of the Good Shepherd, and that this Good Shepherd envisions a future full of blessing for both Dow and the Church of the Holy Communion, apart from one another. The final blessing that he gives this morning will be the first step into that future, for him and for Fiona, and for all who love this great parish. Holy Communion will yet have another “parson,” one whose car you come to recognize and take comfort from seeing as you drive by. The arrival of the next rector will be an occasion of great joy. Today, our job is to give thanks—thanks to God, for Dow Sanderson’s ministry here, thanks to Fr Dow for his willingness to pour himself out as a libation in this place and for these people, and to receive Fr Dow’s thanks to the parish for offering him an environment in which he could in grow in holiness and become more like Jesus.

So it is entirely “meet and right” that we will soon be in that portion of the liturgy known as “the Great Thanksgiving.” The celebrant, the alter Christus, will bid us as the Corpus Christi to “lift up [our] hearts,” and we will respond that “we lift them up unto the Lord.” And then we will be drawn inexorably into that most sacred of mysteries by which the ecclesial Corpus Christi is invited by the exalted and glorified Corpus Christi to partake of the sacramental Corpus Christi, participating in the very deathless life of the Holy Trinity, in the Celestial Banquet and the consummation of all bliss. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday

Same SMYC morning routine. After Mass, I drove home to Springfield, unpacked my suitcase, packed a different one, grabbed Brenda, and drove back down to O'Fallon. We got to St Michael's in time for the tail end of dinner and joined in an important debriefing time with the Michaelites.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday (Corpus Christi)

Fourth full day at the St Michael's Youth Conference. This group of kids skews toward the young side of the age range (13-19), and we are making some pretty significant mental and emotional demands on them. I am quite proud of the way they are responding. This is a good thing we're doing. Tonight they got take to a baseball game at a venue I cannot bring myself to name. I stayed back to work on the sermon I have to give two weeks from this Sunday at the cathedral in Tabora, Tanzania, on the occasion of their triennial diocesan synod. Brought it from the "detailed outsline" to the "rough draft" stage.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday (St Basil)

Third full day of the St Michael's Youth Conference. See posts from last two days for basic pattern. The variation today was that, after dinner, we introduced the Michaelites to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, in view of it being the eve of Corpus Christi.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tuesday

Second full day of the St Michael's Youth Conference. Same pattern: Breakfast, Morning Prayer, four instruction modules, "choir practice," Mass, lunch, some free/down time, afternoon activity: karate again today, Evensong, an evening activity (today: some outdoor games, then a movie). I excused myself during the afternoon and post-dinner slots to attend to the continuing onslaught of email, plan tomorrow's presentation, take care of some personal errands, and read some Ember Day letters.

Monday, June 12, 2017

St Barnabas

First full day of the 2017 St Michael's Youth Conference in O'Fallon. I had breakfast at my hotel, but joined the group at 8am for Morning Prayer. The morning was packed with instruction: Bible 101, Christian Living (today's focus: Dating), Communion & Creed (my topic), and Prayer. I led a 30-minute fast-paced music rehearsal at noon, after which we celebrated a sung Mass for the Feast of St Barnabas. After lunch there was some down time. The kids had some karate instruction from Fr Baumann, but I went back to the Hilton Garden to work on my presentation for tomorrow and stay on top of my email avalanche. Evensong at 5:30, followed by dinner and a trip to a bowling alley. That was fun. This is a great group of youth, but I am nearly completely worn out just after one day.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Led an adult education hour, presided and preached at the Eucharist, and mixed and mingled at a feast-of-title cookout at Trinity, Mt Vernon. Then I pointed the YFNBmobile west on I-64 to O'Fallon, where I checked into the Hilton Garden and enjoyed a bit of downtime before heading over to St Michael's for the start of the St Michael's Youth Conference, which I will be helping staff all week.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Trinity, Mt Vernon--Matthew 28:16-20, II Corinthians 13:5-14

We have five churches in the Diocese of Springfield whose feast of title is today. So far on my watch as bishop, I’ve always been in a Trinity Church somewhere on Trinity Sunday. I haven’t actually asked, but I think it’s a safe bet that the priests who serve those churches are always glad to see me on Trinity Sunday, because today is the least popular occasion for anyone who regularly preaches to prepare and deliver a sermon. Trinity Sunday is a hard homiletical nut to crack.

Much of the time—rather foolishly, it might be argued—preachers try to teach doctrine, or sometimes engage in a slipshod form of amateur theology. They try to explain the Trinity by way of some sort of analogy—you know, electricity is light and heat and energy, or water can be liquid or solid or vapor. But this is dangerous, because the easiest way to say something wrong about the Trinity is to say anything at all about the Trinity. If you look at what’s called the Athanasian Creed, which can be found in the “historical documents” section in the back of the Prayer Book, for every positive assertion about the Trinity, there are several negative assertions—the Trinity is not XYZ. The Trinity is tricky homiletical territory because it’s tricky theological territory

Another approach a Trinity Sunday preacher can take is to leave theology aside and concentrate on doxology—that is, the Triune God is not to be understood, but praised, worshiped, and adored. I’ve done that myself on more than one occasion, and there’s an important truth there. It is more important that we worship God and obey God than that we understand God. But, when the incense has cleared away, this approach is kind of intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying. Surely a preacher can say something theological on Trinity Sunday.

Let me suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Christianity is a revealed religion, because, truly, nobody could have made this stuff up. It’s bonkers. Read the Athanasian Creed after you get home this afternoon, and you will go bonkers, I can almost guarantee you. So, if the doctrine of the Trinity is not just made up—because who would ever make up something so crazy?—perhaps it’s a good idea to ask: How did our ancestors in the faith ever arrive at this craziness we call Trinitarian theology?

There are, of course, seeds of Trinitarian doctrine in the documents of the New Testament. Two of these seeds, as you might imagine, pop up in today’s readings. We have what’s called the Great Commission, from Matthew 28, where Jesus tells his disciples to go and baptize all nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And then we have the familiar formula knows as the Grace, from II Corinthians 13: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.” Now, like I said, these are just seeds. It’s tempting for us to read our fully developed theological notions of the Trinity back onto these passages, but that’s not really fair. However, in the II Corinthians passage, in the Grace, do pay attention to the order in which the material that strikes us as trinitarian occurs—it’s “the Lord Jesus Christ,” from which we can extrapolate God the Son; then simply “God,” from which we might extrapolate God the Father, and then straightforwardly, “the Holy Spirit.” Without trying to ascribe any intentionality to St Paul when he wrote this, it’s nonetheless interesting to note that this order—Son, Father, Spirit—this order replicates the sequence in which the Church actually experiences the reality and the life of God. That is, both originally—in the earliest days and years of Christianity—and then repeatedly throughout history, including us in our own time, we tend to be aware of Jesus first, then, through him, the Father, and only then understand that our knowledge of both the Son and the Father is brought to us courtesy of the Holy Spirit.

First, we meet Jesus through the witness of those who have known him risen from the dead. This is symbolized in our worship by the Liturgy of the Word, which we are in the midst of at this moment. When we come together for the Eucharist, we read from our collection of family stories, the way an extended family gathered for Thanksgiving or Christmas might look at old photo albums or slides or Super 8 movies or read some the love letters that Grandpa wrote to Grandma during World War II or from Vietnam. These family stories—which we call epistles and gospels and Old Testament readings—these family stories remind us who we are and that what we have in common is our mutual connection to Jesus.

Meeting Jesus through the witness of those who knew him risen from the dead is then sacramentalized as we proceed with the celebration of the Eucharist. And in celebrating the Eucharist, Jesus shows us the Father, which is what he is always prone to do; the Son’s default disposition is to show us the Father. It is to the Father that we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving—ourselves, our souls and bodies, as both St Paul and the Book of Common Prayer put it—we offer our sacrifice to the Father always in union with the self-offering of the Son. And then, knowing the Father and the Son in eucharistic community, we find ourselves enveloped in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and impelled by that fellowship into mission.

So, liturgically, it is in the Dismissal that we know the Triune God, because that is the nexus, the link, between our Holy Communion within these walls, communion with the risen Christ who is sent by the Father, and our communion with one another and with God beyond these walls, our communion in mission. It is the liturgy of the Eucharist that empowers what we do in the world, and it is our communion in the world, our communion in ministry and mission, that makes sense only in the light what we do in the Eucharist, and, at the same time, validates what we do in the Eucharist.

That’s a lot of pretty dense theology, I realize, so let’s unpack it a little bit:

Our worship of Almighty God is an end an itself and is complete in itself. It is not a means to some other end, some supposedly greater end, like “changing the world.” Yet, our offering of worship is incoherent, anemic, if the community that re-members the Body of Christ around the altar does not also re-member the Body of Christ in making disciples, in baptizing, and in demonstrating justice and love, as it were, “in the neighborhood.”

Our witness in word and deed in the world is intrinsically good. I mean, what’s not to like about justice, love, and proclaiming good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the captive. But it is rootless and underpowered if it does not flow from the eucharistic presence of the Son making the Father known in the power of the Spirit.

If we are absent from the Table on the Lord’s Day, or AWOL from the world during the week, we miss out on this, and the Trinity makes no sense at all. It is in the context of mission—disciple-making, baptizing, justice-promoting, Paschal mystery-animated mission, it is in the context of the Church moving out of itself and into the neighborhood, that we know the Triune God. Only then will it occur to us that Trinity Sunday is something to celebrate.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday (St Ephrem)

On the road at 7:30, headed for the Peoria Civic Center. I was invited by the bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church (which covers the state south of I-80) to be the ecumenical guest at their annual conference, which included a baptism, ordinations of deacons and elders (presbyters), and a celebration of the Eucharist ... and several other interesting lesser things, like a literal altar call during the singing of a hymn for people to come forward and present themselves for discernment for ordained ministry. It was long, and I was home around 1:45. After a bit of rest and relaxation--too short--it was back on the road at 6:30, ending up in Mt Vernon, where I will be visiting Trinity Church tomorrow on their feast of title.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday (St Columba)

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Emailed staff to let them know of my absence from the office this morning.
  • Emailed three clergy with impending ordination anniversaries.
  • Took care of a couple of personal errands by phone.
  • Began work on editing and refining my homily for Trinity Sunday, to be delivered day after tomorrow at Trinity, Mt Vernon. Since the handyman for whom I was staying home, and who was supposed to come at 9:30, didn't show, I just kept on working and finished short of actually printing, which I will do when I get to the office.
  • Responded to a series of short emails from the Communications Coordinator.
  • Responded via email to an Ember Day letter from one of our postulants.
  • Kept an 11am appointment with my own primary care doctor.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Printed the Trinity Sunday sermon.
  • Worked with Paige, the Communications Coordinator on some video projects. Not urgent, but she deserves to be kept busy while I'm out of the office for nearly the next two weeks. Have I mentioned that technology is a black hole for time?
  • Refined and printed my homily for June 18, to be given at Holy Communion, Charleston, SC, where we will be keeping the feast of Corpus Christi.
  • Answered an email from the Chair of the Department of Finance.
  • Lectio divina (on tomorrow's OT office reading) in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.
  • Roughed out the teaching presentations I'm scheduled to make at the St Michael's Youth Conference next week, and developed the first one in some detail. I'm behind the curve on this.
Just for the record, I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed, just barely staying ahead of deadlines. And the pace will only quicken between now and the second week of July. Spare a prayer for me.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday

  • Early morning treadmill workout. New multi-tasking venture: Morning Prayer (from my iPad app) while on the treadmill.
  • Task planning over breakfast.
  • Saw to some liturgical details for next week's St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Met with the Communications Coordinator over a couple of projects that are on her plate.
  • Dashed off an email to a priest whose ordination anniversary is today.
  • Left a phone message with the office of Bishop Roth, my ELCA counterpart, returning a call of his.
  • Worked on my homily for June 18, observing the feast of Corpus Christi, to be delivered at Holy Communion, Charleston, SC, on the occasion of the Rector's final Sunday there before retirement. Brought it to the "rough draft" stage.
  • Walked up to Isringhausen to retrieve the YFNBmobile from being serviced, taking a returned phone call from Bishop Roth along the way. Stopped by KFC to pick up some lunch, eaten at home.
  • Began working on the text of an old homily for Proper 7 toward the end of re-inventing ut for use on June 25 in Alton Parish.
  • Cut that process short to take Brenda to a doctor's appointment.
  • Returned to the office about 3:30. Finished doing what I was doing on the Proper 7 homily.
  • Did some more liturgical planning/prep for the St Michael's Conference.
  • Carefully read a letter from a priest serving in one of the para-Anglican jurisdictions who wants to come into the Episcopal Church. It can be done, but it's a bit of an arduous process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday

  • Hotel breakfast with the Bishop of Missouri.
  • Pack and checked out of the Sheraton Suites Elk Grove Village.
  • Met with the Province V bishops from 9:00 until 11:00. Topics of discussion included the proposed full-communion agreement with the United Methodist Church, ways of organizing diocesan administration, and some other odds and ends. 
  • Got a ride to O'Hare courtesy of the Bishop of Eau Claire and caught the CTA Blue Line train to Logan Square.
  • Had lunch at a taqueria with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Hattie has got to be the most good-natured toddler in the hemisphere. Back at the condo, I got to read her three books as she drifted off into her afternoon nap.
  • My son arrived at 3:00 and I hung out there for the next hour.
  • Back to the Blue Line to the Jackson Blvd stop, then a brisk walk westward about a dozen blocks and across the river to Union Station.
  • Caught Amtrak Train 305, which departed promptly at 5:15 and arrived in Springfield on schedule at 8:38. Had a microwaved pepperoni pizza for dinner, processed a ton of emails, and roughed out the broad strokes of my next post on the Covenant blog.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday (First BCP)

Caught the 6:32am Amtrak departure, arriving in Chicago at 10, having availed myself of the fairly reliable wifi connection on Amtrak's Lincoln Service to get some work done. Took a Blue Line CTA train to O'Hare. Intended to take a hotel shuttle from there, but, in view of the time, caught a cab to the Sheraton Suites in suburban Elk Grove Village. The is the site of the regular meeting of the Province V bishops, which is a noon-to-noon affair, so I'll be heading back home tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost

Up and out of the Hampton Inn in Marion in plenty of time to traverse the 50 miles down to Cairo and arrive at the Church of the Redeemer about 45 minutes before the regular 10am Eucharist. We kept the feast--preaching the word and sharing the Holy Mysteries while confirming three adults. Splendid post-liturgical potluck, the highlight of which was homemade venison tamales. Yes, the cook had also been the hunter. Got home a little past 4:00, having driven from the south (with magnolias in full bloom to prove it) to the midwest via a torrential downpour on I-64 west of Mt Vernon.

Sermon for Pentecost

Redeemer, Cairo--John 20:19-23, Acts 2:1-11, I Corinthians 12:4-13

You may have noticed that it has become very common for groups of all sorts—companies, schools, government agencies, churches, and even families—to adopt mission statements. The idea is that, if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re probably not going to be doing it. You’ll probably feel busy, but you might be busy at the wrong thing.

This can all be taken to a bit of an absurd extreme of course. It actually wouldn’t surprise me to hear about a pre-school play group working on a mission statement. And I suspect that, to some extent, it may have already run its course as a fad in our society. But in principle, I believe in mission statements. The whole Church has a mission statement. It could probably be expressed several different ways, but we may as well start with the version contained in our catechism, in the back of the Prayer Book: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each another in Christ.”

So let’s take this apart and look at it more closely. As the Church, we are supposed to be about restoring all people to unity—unity with God, and unity with one another. Another way of saying this, to borrow the language of St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, is that we have “the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation, for Christians, is Job 1. And how are we to pursue this ministry, this mission, of reconciliation? Well, the catechism helps us out here as well: “The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” So there we have it; that’s what we’re about: liturgy—which is what we’re gathered here for today, evangelization—telling others the good news of that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again;” and the promotion of justice, peace, and love.

This activity, this ministry of reconciliation takes place in many different forms and at many different levels. It’s a wonderful interplay between the efforts of individuals and the efforts of communities. St Paul makes this makes this very clear when he compares the Church to a human body. A body is a complex organism. As Paul puts it, “…the body does not consist of one member but of many. … If all were a single organ, where would the body be?” Yet, Paul also says, “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”  So, in order for a body to be healthy, in order for it to function as it’s supposed to—in other words, in order for a body to fulfill its mission statement—all the different parts have to be pulling in the same direction, they have to work as members of the same team. When they don’t, what do we call it? We call it cancer, and it’s a serious problem. So, the various gifts and talents and resources that we have as members of the Body of Christ are never simply for our own benefit. They are for the benefit, the overall health and vitality, of the whole body.

But … this is not to say that when we use our gifts and the development of our talents and resources, it doesn’t have any impact on us personally. Quite the contrary: When we use our gifts for the glory of God and for the benefit of the Church’s mission, we always get some grace back in the deal. We receive grace that makes us more holy, more like Jesus. We need to exercise our spiritual gifts in order to become more like Jesus, to mold our inner being, our character, into the pattern of his own life and being, to be made ready to live in Heaven, to live in the unfiltered presence of God. That is our destiny.

It’s an ambitious project—the reconciliation of the world and the salvation of our own souls. And the fuel for this endeavor is the Holy Spirit—God’s gift to the Church. The gift of the Holy Spirit is what we are celebrating today, on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the Church, and we actually have two distinct versions of that gift being presented: one quietly and privately, as Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room on the same day as his resurrection—this is the account in St John’s gospel; and once publicly and dramatically, on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles were miraculously able to proclaim the gospel in a bunch of different languages, according to the needs of the diverse group of people who were gathered in Jerusalem that day—this is the account we read in the book of Acts.

But the gift of the Holy Spirit is not only God’s gift to the Church as a group; it is also his gift to individual Christians, personally. This is the angle St Paul emphasizes in his letter to the Corinthians:
[T]he body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 
Whenever we baptize somebody, in response to our prayers, God sends his Holy Spirit into that person, and that Spirit always brings gifts. At the moment of baptism, we can’t say yet what those gifts are. We’ll know that over time. But whatever those spiritual gifts are, they’re just what the person needs for his or her own salvation, for the process of growth and development into the full image and stature of Christ. As we exercise the gifts we received in baptism, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in a process that will be finished only when we can look God in the eye and not immediately die.

But the only place where it’s going to work that way is when we use our spiritual gifts in the midst of the whole Church. The gifts that each of us receive in baptism are for the benefit of all of us. They’re for the Church’s mission, her ministry of reconciliation, of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Indeed, the gift of the Spirit cannot be separated from mission. Jesus breathes on his disciples, we’re told in St John’s gospel, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” But this only happens after he has already told them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." One is for the other. The gift is for the purpose of mission.

When we forget this—when we forget this indissoluble bond between spiritual gifts and the Church’s mission, her ministry of reconciliation, spiritual gifts get turned in on themselves. In a sense, we might say they “go bad,” like a carton of milk forgotten in the back of the refrigerator for too long. They turn sour, and become the occasion of sin, and can, without the intervention of grace and repentance, lead eventually to a soul’s destruction.

So I want to leave you with a question, a question to which I do not presume to know the answer, but one which each of us, each of us who are members of the one body, must be asking if we are at all concerned with the Church being faithful to her mission. The miracle of Pentecost was that people from a dozen different language groups around the eastern Roman Empire heard the apostles speaking their languages. Each one heard good news that held out the promise of making a positive change in his or her life. Many lives were forever changed that day because of the gift of “tongues” that was given by the Holy Spirit to the apostles. What might that gift look like today? There are no longer any Parthians or Medes or Elamites or Mesopotamians in the world today. But there are Pakistanis and East Timorese and Swedes and Brazilians and South Africans. There are no longer any distinct language groups representing Cappadocia and Phrygia and Pamphylia, but there are certainly Baby Boomers and Millennials and people from thrown-under-the-bus towns like Cairo, Illinois. How are all these people, who are defined either geographically or culturally, going to hear the gospel, each one in his or her own “language”?  What is the nature of the gift of “tongues” that the Church needs today, so that we as the Church, we as the Body of Christ, can be focused on and faithful to our mission statement—being ministers of reconciliation, restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ? I invite you to join me keeping that utterly critical question in our prayers.

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Saturday (Martyrs of Uganda)

  • Arrived at the cathedral at 9:30 to prepare for a 10am Mass for the team of Cursillo #35. Kept the lesser feast of the Martyrs of Uganda and commissioned the team members in their various roles.
  • Attended and participated in a meeting of the Standing Committee that followed the Cursillo Mass. This ended around 1pm.
  • Lunch, some relaxation, and a brief nap at home.
  • Long walk on a hot day.
  • Began working on plotting my sermon prep for the weeks between mid-September and the beginning of Advent.
  • Packed and hit the road southbound a little past 6:00. Arrived at the Hampton Inn in Marion around 9:20.
  • Continued to work on the above-mentioned sermon planning project.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday (Martyrs of Lyons)

  • Task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Administrator briefly over a couple of issues.
  • Returned a call from my doctor's office; they needed to reschedule an appointment.
  • Met for a while with Paige, our new Communications Coordinator, trying to figure out together the details of her job. We know the broad strokes, but the daily workflow is something we need to invent.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest from another diocese concerning "national church" issues.
  • Spoke by conference call with two lay leaders from one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Refined and printed my homily for this Sunday (Redeemer, Cairo).
  • Ran a personal errand before grabbing lunch at McD's and eating it at home.
  • Put something up on the website about Paige starting with us, and linked to it on the diocesan Facebook page. From now on, that her job!
  • Time for more multi-tasking: Took a walk (not a brisk one, given the heat) down Spring to South Grand, then back up Second, all the while doing an Ignatian-style meditation on the daily office gospel reading from Luke about Martha being cross with Jesus about Mary. I took some comfort from the fact that I was indeed doing the "one thing needful."
  • Per the request of the Bishop of Tabora, arranged (via e-chat with a distributor) to purchase a "bunch" (not a technical term) of clergy collars that I can bring with me to Tanzania later this month, for use by his clergy.
  • Planned music for the six instances of Evening Prayer/Evensong at the St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Made an necessary executive decision that there isn't time for handwritten notes to clergy and spouses with June birthdays and anniversaries. I will try to email the clergy with ordination anniversaries (June is a big month for that).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday (St Justin Martyr)

Home now after eight days in the Chicago area and at Nashotah House. There was supposed to have been a visit to St Paul, MN to see our daughter and her family. However, on the way north on Wednesday (the 24th), I was getting text messages from my sisters that my mother's health had taken a decidedly negative turn, and on the morning of Ascension Day, the phone call came with the news that she had died. She was 91, substantially into dementia, and had metastatic melanoma that we had decided not to treat, so we knew this wasn't terribly far away, and were glad that the end came as quickly for her as it did. Because of the impending holiday, and the difficulty in coordinating the lives of the six surviving siblings and their families, it turned out to be better to bury her sooner than later, so the funeral was Saturday, with three generations of her descendants present. We did indeed get to see our Minnesota daughter, but it was with them coming to us rather than us going to them. So, on Monday, it was off to Nashotah, according to plan. Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday were spent with the Board of Directors in sometimes difficult but ultimately fruitful meetings. Wednesday was devoted to activities geared toward alumni, of which I am one. This morning was commencement, at which it was again my joyful privilege to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist. We left after lunch and arrived home, gratefully, just before 8:00.