Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday (St Aidan)

Out the door northbound a little past 8:00. Pulled into the grounds of Nashotah House about 4.5 hours later. Met with Acting Dean Garwood Anderson. Met with Institutional Advancement Director Diane Plantenberg. Preached at the regular weekly Solemn Eucharist. Out to dinner with fellow-director (and Diocese of Springfield priest) Fr Brien Koehler and his wife Terri. 

Sermon for St Aidan's Day

St Mary's Chapel, Nashotah House--I Thessalonians 3:6-13

Earlier this month, while on vacation out west, my wife and I drove—in one day, no less—from Big Sky, Montana, near the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park—up to Belgrade, which is just west of Bozeman, and then westward on I-90 up through Butte and Missoula and across the Idaho panhandle and on into Washington through Spokane, eventually cutting southward to the “Inland Empire” cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland, then across the Columbia River into Oregon, turning westward again through the amazing Columbia Gorge to Portland, and finally the 50 miles or so southward on I-5 to Salem. That was some 750 miles, and we did it in about 14 hours!

There was a bit of nostalgia for Brenda and me as we did this, because that route, traveling in the other direction, represented a significant chunk of our journey 31 years ago from our home in Salem to make a new long-term temporary home for our family just a few hundred yards from this chapel, down in the Flats. We had sold our home, quit our jobs, pulled our children out of the only network of relationships they had ever known, and, most-wrenchingly, pulled ourselves out of a very close-knit and supportive parish church community that was the center of our life together. All five of us were experiencing substantial separation anxiety.

If there is an organic institutional neurosis at Nashotah House, I suspect it might be separation anxiety. Indeed, some here can probably map very closely with the family experience that I just described. You have left homes and jobs in order to be here. While less common, it’s not unknown for someone to leave his or her own nuclear family in order to be in residence at Nashotah House. All among the students, even the hybrid-distance students when they’re on campus, have left familiar patterns of life and relationships. Now, one might think that the faculty and staff have a more stable relationship to the institution. Of course, never having been either one, I can’t speak in the first person on this, but I suspect even the members of the “permanent” campus community undergo periodic episodes of grief  (or, I don’t know, in some cases, perhaps, relief?!) every May as one more class graduates. And we represent, among ourselves in this moment, and whenever the community gathers for the regular round of worship in this place—we represent the full gamut, or nearly so, of positions in the worldwide landscape of global Anglicanism and para-Anglicanism, and beyond, which is a classification that has experienced more than its share of separation anxiety over the last few years.

We have a snippet this evening from Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians. As I understand the historical context of this document, always willing to be corrected by more knowledgeable present company (!), it was written, possibly from Berea or Athens, if it’s appropriate to harmonize it with the narrative in Acts, just a few weeks, or perhaps even days, after Paul made an emergency exit from Thessalonica in order to escape a clear risk of great bodily harm. Both he and the still relatively newly-established Thessalonian church were enduring sudden and unwanted separation. This is an emotionally charged passage. It drips with longing and affection. “Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.”

Aidan of Lindisfarne also knew something about separation. He was a member of the monastic community at Iona in the seventh century when King Oswald of Northumbria sent for missionaries to come re-evangelize the territory he had recently won back from pagan forces. Aidan was chosen to lead that missionary effort, and, being under a vow of obedience, he went, and established a base of operations with his monastic confreres at Lindisfarne. By dint more of sheer persistent faithful determination than any memorable brilliance, he succeeded to a degree that, were it to happen in our context, would be considered fabulous. He lived another twenty years, and, as far as I’ve been able to determine, never returned to Iona even for a visit. The separation was permanent. St Aidan understood it to be the cost of discipleship, the price of gospel ministry.

There’s a hymn, in the Hymnal 1940, one that didn’t survive the 1982 revision, that was clearly intended to be used in the context of sending missionaries off to distant and dangerous foreign lands. “Ye Christian heralds, go proclaim, salvation in Emmanuel’s Name: To distant climes the tidings bear, and plant the Rose of Sharon there.” That certainly evokes a bygone era, does it not?! But the final verse is poignant, because it implies not just “goodbye,” but “farewell”: “And when our labors all our o’er, then, may we meet to part no more, meet, with the ransomed throng to fall, and crown the Savior Lord of all.” You can imagine the tears flowing on an occasion when this hymn is sung. The prospect of separation was concrete, but joy abounded because of shared comradeship in the gospel.

What gave Paul, and then Aidan, and then hosts of others, the strength to keep on keeping on under a panoply of adverse conditions, including but not limited to, separation? It was, I would suggest, comradeship in the gospel with those from whom he was involuntarily separated. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” And just a little later, he offers them this benediction: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.” Comradeship in the gospel brings joy in the midst of separation. Again, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

Those of you who have been sent here by a community that you were an integral part of, you continue, in your separation, to be comrades in the gospel with the people of that community, and they with you. That is a source of great joy. Only a few weeks ago, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which, you will recall, fell on a Sunday this year, Brenda and I worshipped with the congregation of St Timothy’s in Salem, Oregon, the parish that sent us on our way to Nashotah House in 1986. It was a luminous occasion. Only a few folks there have been around long enough to remember us, but that includes the rector, because I was one of his catechists for confirmation in that very parish! We have visited many times over the years, and, to this day, feel a deep sense of continuing comradeship with them in the gospel, which is a source of great joy

Those of you who will serve Christ’s church in ordained ministry, the communities you will serve—unless you’re going to be a church planter, and I hope some of you are—the communities you will serve already exist, and you are already comrades with them in the gospel. Let me ask: Have you thought about beginning to pray for them, even though their identity is yet unknown? This could be a great source of joy for you—anxiety and trepidation as well, to be sure, but great joy.

Those of you who sit in the perpendicular stalls, and nearby, you are in the enviable position of watching comrades in the gospel grow and mature, stumble and fall, stand up, fuller of grace than they were before, and go out from here to serve competently, and sometimes courageously, as pastors and leaders. That must be a source of great joy for you.

Separation hurts, my brothers and sisters. You don’t need me to tell you that. Even when grief is relatively slight, it’s still grief, and it’s still painful. But both grace and joy abound in the midst of that separation because we are joined together, not just in the waters of baptism, but as heralds, witnesses to God’s re-creation, God’s new day, in Christ, to all the world. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday (Charles Chapman Grafton)

  • Clergy of the diocese are distinguishing themselves in cyberspace of late (guest article on Covenant from Fr Caleb Roberts this morning, and Fr Dave Halt is writing this weeks devotional for The Living Church), so I took some time at home to read and appropriately share. I'm proud of our profile! Plus ... usual task planning.
  • Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday cathedral Mass. It was a little more effort than usual to dig up the propers for the lesser feast of Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton. When he was consecrated Bishop of Fond du Lac in 1888, his chief consecrator was Bishop MacLaren, who was Bishop of Chicago at the time but had been Bishop of Illinois when it covered the whole state. One of the co-consecrators was Bishop Seymour, first Bishop of Springfield.
  • Took the developed outline of my sermon for Proper 18 (September 10) to the "rough draft" stage.
  • Attended to a small bit of administrative work pertaining to both major pools of investments that I have a share of stewardship in.
  • Reported for duty at the cathedral chapel at 12:15, but nobody showed. That happens sometimes. Fortunately, not very often.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Roughed out my 2018 visitation schedule and asked Sue to look it over and see if I forgot anyone!
  • Scanned and otherwise processed accumulated hardcopy in my physical inbox.
  • Did some routine self-organization maintenance (cleaning out my Evernote inbox).
  • Early (3:45) Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Knocked off early to go home and get a good, long walk in before dinner.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday

  • Master task planning for the week at home, along with some Nashotah-related stuff. Because we're in an unanticipated transition between deans, the board's workload has increased significantly.
  • Devotions (Angelus and intercessions) and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • The remainder of the morning was consumed by taking the sermon for St Aidan's Day (this Thursday at Nashotah House) that was conceived and hatched last week and supervising its growth to readiness-to-fledge (to continue to avian metaphor).
  • Lunch at home--leftovers.
  • Returned a phone call from one of our rectors over a pastoral/administrative concern.
  • Wrote an 600+-word article for the next issue of the Springfield Current and delivered it to the Communications Coordinator. You can get a preview here.
  • Reviewed and commented on the Diocesan Secretary's draft minutes of last Saturday's Council meeting.
  • Reworked, refined, and printed my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at All Saints, Morton.
  • Wrestled yet again with the commentators on Proper 23 and distilled my homiletical message statement for the occasion of preaching at St Matthew's, Bloomington on October 15.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Lord's Day (XII Pentecost)

On the road at 7:15 from my overnight in Effingham. Pulled into the parking lot at St John's, Albion about 90 minutes later. Participated in Word and Sacrament with the dozen or so faithful communicants of that small but vital Eucharistic Community. I think there's an inverse relationship between the size of a congregation and the quality of the post-liturgical spread in the parish hall! And this is a fun bunch to visit with. Back on the road a little past 11 and home at 2:30. Out to dinner (at Cooper's Hawk) with Brenda in the evening to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. She had no clue what she was doing that day, and I knew even less, but grace has abounded and we've made it this far.

Sermon for Proper 16

St John's, Albion--Matthew 16:16-30

I’m not exactly at the tip of the spear when it comes to awareness of popular culture—a couple of years ago during the Super Bowl I had to admit on Facebook that I had never before heard of the halftime headliner … it was Katy Perry that year … I now know who Katy Perry is, but I didn’t then—like I said, I may have trouble with my knowledge of celebrities, but I don’t exactly live under a rock either. I pay attention to the news, I watch television and movies, I read articles and blog posts, and I do so with my antennae up for how the area of my greatest interest—religion in general, Christianity in particular, Anglicanism even more in particular—I pay attention to how the world I live in every day is perceived and understood by the world “out there.” And what comes through loudly and clearly and consistently is that the world “out there” believes that all religious questions ultimately boil down to one: Does God exist?

Now, for me personally, God’s existence is one of his least interesting attributes. But, for a lot of other people, that’s the question on which everything else turns. It’s as if, by comparison, no other question matters, no matter which way you resolve it.

So, can the substance of the Christian faith really be boiled down to believing in the existence of God? Does the first article of the Creed render all the others irrelevant? I hope you are answering to yourselves, “No, of course not.” But if we’re really honest, that is where we mentally want to draw the line, isn’t it? It does seem to be the fundamental religious question, and we sometimes tend to judge people as “one of us” or “one of them” depending on whether they “believe in God,” and not much else.

With our feelings, if not with our minds, we tend to affirm that the primary mission and message of Christianity is that people should believe in God, and that believing in God is the essential profession of faith that one needs to make.

Our Lord Jesus, however, might have another idea, a more pointed question, a question with more profound implications. St Matthew’s gospel records for us a well-known incident in which Jesus was with his disciples in the old Gentile city of Caesarea Philippi. He puts to them a question, “What are people saying about me? Who do they think I am?” They respond with a variety of answers, all of them involving the re-incarnation of some prominent dead person.

Then Jesus sharpens the pencil, and makes it personal: “What about you? Who do you think I am?” And Simon Peter answers for himself and the other disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” For all of us who profess to be Christians, then,
for all of us who profess to be disciples of the same Jesus who interrogated his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, the question “Who is Jesus?” — not merely “Does God exist?”— is the critical question of faith.

Philosophers—both the professional kind and the ordinary variety that all of us are from time to time—have long pondered the existence-of-God question. Students of philosophy learn about Anselm’s “ontological argument” and “Pascal’s wager.” But it’s evident that there has yet to be any universally recognized conclusive proof of the matter, because people still keep talking about it!

I wonder, though, sometimes, just why we keep talking about it. Perhaps we’re stuck on the existence-of-God question because it’s a much “safer” question than the one Jesus poses. We can debate the existence of God abstractly, in theory, hypothetically. And if we manage to continue the friendly conversation long enough, we may never have to face the other question, the question of Jesus’s identity, the question that peers into the depths of our souls and demands a personal answer—not a hypothetical answer, not a theoretical answer, but an honest, personal answer. “What about you—Who do you say that I am?," Jesus wants to know.

In a Christian universe, it’s the answer to this question that divides belief from unbelief, faith from doubt. It’s the “Final Jeopardy” question which cannot be evaded—it just comes at the end of the program, the end of the game. And it’s for all the marbles, the whole enchilada. Who is Jesus?

Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Son of the Living God—this is what constitutes and defines the nature of Christian faith, this is what spells out the message and mission of the Church. The content of the Christian faith cannot be reduced to the first article of the Creed. Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this, but God is not enough. Of course, I don’t mean that God is somehow inadequate or insufficient. What I mean is that simply acknowledging the existence of a Supreme Being, an Ultimate Reality, even praying to or worshiping such a Deity, does not constitute saving, life-giving faith. It’s a necessary step, but it’s a baby step, and, strange as it may sound, I’m not sure it necessarily needs to be the first step in one’s walk of faith. I have known of people who have wrestled long and hard with the philosophical questions, then met Jesus, and confessed his lordship, and only after that step been able to say with assuredness, “I believe in God.”

Wrestling with the philosophical issues of God’s existence is all well and good, but not if we get stuck there, not if it keeps us from facing the real question, “Who is Jesus?” So please don’t settle for just plain “God.” Don’t settle for that from me as your bishop or Fr Bill as your priest. Don’t settle for that from your brothers and sisters here at St John’s Church. Don’t settle for that from anyone or anything else in your religious universe. You deserve much more! You deserve the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

When we settle for the Supreme Deity of the philosophers, we are left with a vaguely comforting but terribly bland religion that will eventually bore us to tears and accomplish absolutely nothing for the eternal well-being of our souls, and, when all is said and done, precious little for the state of human life in this world. It’s like taking an analgesic drug that numbs the pain but does nothing to address the source of the pain. Those drugs are nice on a short-term basis, but they can become quite a problem, in ways I don’t even need to name, over the long haul. But when, instead of depending on pain killers, we submit to and cooperate with a demanding regimen of physical therapy that requires our active participation and effort, rather than simply having something done to us or for us, we open ourselves to the possibility of lasting change and improvement. In the same way, when we get beyond the first article of the Creed, and into the rest of it, we discover a religious inheritance that is strong, rich, nourishing, challenging, and effective. It is capable of seeing us through the very valley of the shadow of death. Indeed, the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson has defined God as “whoever raised Jesus from the dead.”


I will not deceive you. This inheritance comes to us in the shape of a cross, as we will discover more clearly the readings for next Sunday. But it’s a cross that becomes the road to eternal life, the way of everlasting peace and joy and reconciliation. I can make no finer response to this mystery than by echoing the words of St Paul, as he concludes the eleventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday

Up and out at more or less the usual weekday time, even though it's a Saturday. Got to the cathedral/office complex at 9:00. Prepared for the 10am Mass and subsequent Diocesan Council meeting. Presided at both those events, then had a substantive meeting with a lay leader from one of our Eucharistic Communities. Home around 1:30. Since I'm still fighting off whatever it is that has laid me low the last few days, I intentionally took it easy and rest for the afternoon. After dinner, around 7:30, I headed for Effingham, where I am spending the night ahead of moving on the Albion for tomorrow morning's visit to St John's.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday (St Louis)

  • Per doctor's orders, slept in a bit. Planned tasks. Got the the office/cathedral complex around 9:30. Feeling much better.
  • Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a couple of late-arriving emails.
  • Conferred with the Administrator and the Communicator over some administrative issues.
  • Dealt by email with an emerging administrative issue in one of our parishes.
  • Got enticed into substantive (and time-consuming) participation in an online discussion thread among authors of the Covenant blog. (Part of my vow to "take [my] share in the councils of the church," right?)
  • Carefully read and commented on a draft agreement to, under our canons, create a Geographic Parish including two of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Responded by email to a query from one of our clergy about attitudes toward Lutheran orders.
  • Got lunch from El Ranchero Taco joint, a new place that has the footprint of a taco truck but is actually in a small T-building on South Grand just east of Second. Ate at home. Really good.
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors about licensing a lay preacher. Followed up a bit with staff.
  • Responded to some late-arriving emails pertaining to stuff I've already worked on today.
  • Got into the exegetical weeds with the gospel reading for Proper 23 (to be preached on at St Matthew's, Bloomington on the weekend of Synod in October), with the help of four commentaries (which tended not to agree with one another). I really enjoy this sort of thing, and it helps me preach better, but it's time-consuming.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer on the early side.
  • Got to work fleshing out the rough outline of my next-due post for the Covenant blog. Left at 5:45 with the task still incomplete. Finished it at home after supper.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

St Batholomew

  • Usual AM routine: daily task planning at home, devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended substantively to some ongoing Nashotah House business. Being without a Dean makes more work for the Board.
  • Got to work on my homily for Proper 18 (September 10 at Trinity, Yazoo City, MS, which I take care of under the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight program), taking it from a basic message statement to a developed outline. This took the rest of the morning, and some of the afternoon.
  • Attended the 12:15 Mass for St Bartholomew's Day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Finished the sermon work I had begun in the morning. 
  • Reviewed and responded to a request for a marital judgment. I was pleased to learn that the plan is for the new marriage to be celebrated and blessed in the context of a Sunday Eucharist.
  • Wrestled earnestly with the readings appointed for next Thursday evening's Eucharist in St Mary's Chapel at Nashotah House. I have been invited to be the preacher for the occasion. The wrestling match produced a developed outline, which I will flesh out next week.
  • All this was done from the recliner in my office, as I've been feeling, as they say in the south, "puny" for about the last 36 hours: that old "run over by a truck" feeling, along with some pain in my chest when I inhale. I called an advice nurse, who, upon hearing my symptoms and talking with me, recommended that I proceed to urgent care. So I drove home, changed clothes, and followed the advice. Chest X-ray clear. White cell count slightly elevated. Working theory: a weird form of bronchitis. My instructions are to push fluids, take it kind of easy, and call my regular doctor in the morning. I am, if anything, a compliant patient.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday

... and we're back:
  • Task planning (lots of it) at home. 60 items in play for what's left of this week.
  • Returned a call from a lay person living in the southern part of the diocese seeking some pastoral care.
  • Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the cathedral midday Mass.
  • Conferred briefly with the Communications Coordinator.
  • Culled and cleared accumulated hard copy detritus from my physical desktop.
  • Responded to emails from a couple of clergy whose parishes I will be visiting soon.
  • Edited, refined, and printed the working text of my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Albion).
  • Took a walk in the neighborhood.
  • Celebrated and preached a votive Mass "For the Nation" in the cathedral chapel. The choice seemed appropriate.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo (it's been a while), eaten at home.
  • Wrote a note of condolence to a former Nashotah trustee whose wife has just died.
  • Called to schedule an appointment with Fr Mike Newago, who is settling in as Priest-in-Charge of St Barnabas', Havana, but who is also Mission Strategy Consultant for the three northern deanaries of the diocese.
  • Attended briefly to some Forward Movement-related materials.
  • Attended substantively to some mission strategy issues.
  • Responded via email to a pastoral situation affecting one of our clergy.
  • Responded by email to the priest of yet another parish I will soon be visiting.
  • To the cathedral for an early-ish Evening Prayer (around 4:15).
  • Check in by email with yet another of our clergy who is undergoing vexing health issues.
  • Took steps toward conceiving a homily for a the feast of St Aidan, to be delivered next Thursday evening in St Mary's Chapel at Nashotah House.