Monday, September 25, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

St Matthew

Once again, my daily reports from the meeting of the House of Bishop will appear on my "classic" blog.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday (John Coleridge Patteson et al)

A long day of travel, about 16 hours door to door--Springfield to Seattle to Fairbanks. Got checked in at the hotel where everything is happening, then enjoyed dinner with some good friends from out Class of 2011 bishops & spouses community.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made lodging arrangements for my next visit to Nashotah House.
  • Acceded to Dean Andy Hook's request that I pick out columbarium niches for Brenda and me, just so we have dibs when the time comes. (Chances are, though, we'll probably have ourselves planted at Nashotah.)
  • Confirmed via phone that I indeed did remember to reserve a hotel room in Fairbanks for the House of Bishops meeting. There had been a moment of panic earlier.
  • Responded by email to a couple of queries from diocesan clergy on disparate matters, and one from a lay leader.
  • Attended to some dangling details pertaining to the Synod Mass.
  • Took a fine-tooth comb to the text of a homily for Proper 21 that I used several years ago, and made several appropriate emendations to make it usable on October 1 at St Mary's, Robinson.
  • Took a brisk walk west on Lawrence to Walnut, then north to Edwards and back over to Second. 
  • Jumped on a couple of late-arriving emails.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Sat with Paige as we walked ourselves together through our user's guide to Gnosis toward the end of producing an emailed ad clerum letter to all clergy serving in the diocese. It was painstaking effort, but it was rewarded with success, and will be easier next time. Then I had to actually write the letter, which took a while. But it worked, and I've already heard back from some that they got it.
  • Refined the script for my next video in the Seven Habits series. Sent to Paige to stimulate her creative thinking. Hope to record in early November when my travel schedule settles down.
  • Regular scheduled maintenance task: cleaned up the accumulated material on my computer desktop, stowing stuff in a longer-term manner.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • The evening was spent packing to tomorrow's very early departure by air to Fairbanks, Alaska for the regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Lord's Day (XV Pentecost)

Sundays are always the highlight of my week. Today I got to share the Holy Mysteries and preach the Word of God with the people of St Mark's, West Frankfort. The drive back to Springfield went smoothly and I was back home right at 2:00. Light errands and a ball game to watch. Can't complain.

Sermon for Proper 19

St Mark's, West Frankfort--Matthew 18:21-35

Brenda and I, as you may know, have three grown children, two of whom are married and have made us grandparents three times. Because they don’t live nearby, we don’t get to see the grandchildren nearly as often as we’d like. So, we look for surrogates. When we’re in a public place, like a restaurant, or a train or an airplane, we’ve gotten good at noticing young children about the age of our granddaughters. When we can, it’s fun to connect with these kids—make eye contact, smile, make a funny face, play peek-a-boo … whatever. When we were traveling last June, we walked by a couple with their infant child at a table in a restaurant. Our doting must have been obvious, and the baby girl must not have slept very well the previous night, because they said, “Would you like to take her and raise her and give her back to us when she’s 18?”

As our children each went off to college, graduated, moved back home—well, two of them did—and eventually went out into the world on their own as adults, and especially now as they’re raising kids of their own, I have ample time to reflect on the mystery of it all. I’ve thought about the various milestones in our family’s story, their childhood friends, trips we took, and on that mysterious experience called college, which they enter as children and emerge from as adults. There's a cost to raising children—and I'm not talking about dollars and cents. I think this is what that couple in the restaurant had in mind when they jokingly asked us to raise their daughter. Parents spend a great deal of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual capital in the process of bringing a child into this world and raising that child to maturity. And parents themselves can't really know the cost of each stage of child-rearing until they actually experience it. Only when I left my oldest on a college campus, when all the parents were gently dismissed from the orientation process and told to go away—only in that moment was I at all in touch with what my own mother and father went through 24 years earlier when they watched their still seventeen-year old firstborn son board a plane bound for Santa Barbara from Chicago.

More often than not, though, either by design or by accident, children are blissfully ignorant of what they have "cost" their parents until such eye-opening events. Parents "in the flesh" are not the only parents whose gift of life to their children comes at a considerable cost. The Father from whom all fatherhood proceeds, our Father in Heaven, has expended an untold, and untellable, amount in rescuing us from the power of sin and death. Today, we have an opportunity, if we will take it, to have our eyes opened to the magnitude of that cost and what it has purchased for us.

Like all other children, we are, in our natural state, blissfully unaware of the sheer size of our debt to   God. We are ignorant of how profoundly the sin of the human race, and the individual sinful acts that you and I have indulged in, have alienated and separated and estranged us from the One who created us for himself. Until we have an eye-opening experience, then, we are blind to the sheer scope, the dazzling wonder, of the notion that God forgives us. The words roll off our tongues in the Nicene Creed—"we believe In the forgiveness of sins."

The forgiveness of our sins.

The forgiveness of my particular sins.

When Jesus is questioned by his disciples on the subject of     forgiveness, he tells them about a king who decided to audit his accounts, and collect on any past-due obligations. One of his debtors, perhaps a government official or a contractor, owed him an enormous amount—ten thousand talents, as Matthew puts it—which is the equivalent, at least, of tens of millions of dollars. The king says, "Pay up, or else!" and the servant drops to the ground and begs for more time to come up with        the money, all the while knowing that all the time in the world would not allow him to repay his debt; it was an impossible sum. The king takes pity on him by not granting his request! Instead of allowing him more time, he simply forgives the loan. He releases the debtor from any further obligation of repayment.

Can you imagine finding yourself owing an amount you know you could never pay off in one lifetime, and then having that debt marked "paid in full?" What a gift of grace! But something apparently didn't connect in the heart of the servant who had been released from such a crushing burden, because the first thing he did was find a fellow-servant who owed him a hundred denarii. This might have been anywhere from twenty to two hundred dollars. Now, a two-hundred-dollar debt is enough to temporarily depress me, but in the larger scheme of things, it’s relatively trivial. In comparison with a debt of fifty or sixty million dollars, it's not even a blip on the screen.

Yet, over this trivial debt, the servant who had just been forgiven a fortune had his colleague thrown into debtor's prison! When we read that the other servants of the king, and then the king himself, go absolutely ballistic when they hear of this behavior, we are neither shocked nor surprised. In fact, we can feel our own blood beginning to boil. It is absolutely incomprehensible, and justly infuriating. We would not for a moment want to identify ourselves with this ungrateful servant.

But, guess what, folks!

We're him.

Until our eyes are opened to the magnitude of our debt to God, and therefore the enormous cost of his forgiveness of us, we are ignorant of the outrage that we commit every time we fail to forgive someone who wrongs us. All of us have our “debtors,” people we feel owe us something, whether it's money, time, attention, recognition, gratitude, or whatever. Some of these perceived debts are just, and some are unjust. But they are all trivial! They are all, combined, not even a blip on the screen in comparison with the debt which is ours, the debt which we could never in all eternity pay, but which has been forgiven.

When we come to grips with the amount that we have been forgiven, we cannot help but become ministers of forgiveness ourselves. We cannot help but make forgiveness a habitual way of life. When we become ministers of forgiveness, we become, obviously, channels of grace to those whom we forgive, those whom we release from the bonds of obligation, those who owe us no longer, those whose bill is marked "paid in full."

But they are not the only ones who benefit. When we release another person, we also release ourselves. We liberate ourselves from the bondage of pettiness and the burden of constantly needing to keep accounts. A lifestyle of forgiveness is as freeing to the forgiver as it is to the forgiven. (Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that forgiveness means becoming a doormat and just putting up with obvious injustice or immorality. I'm not saying, "Don't confront wrongdoing." Last week's gospel dealt with that issue. What I am saying is that forgiveness means letting go of evil once it's been confronted and dealt with. It means releasing the past and embracing the future.)

The ungrateful servant in Jesus’ parable obviously didn't grasp the degree of the favor that had been    bestowed on him, and he was deprived of enjoying its benefits. When we choose to be unforgiving, when we insist on holding others accountable for all their trivial debts to us, we render ourselves incapable of fully and effectively receiving the benefits of God's forgiveness. It's as if we were faced with the responsibility of driving a thousand miles across a trackless desert, with no service stations along the route. A generous benefactor offers us all the gasoline we'll need for the trip, free of charge. But our vehicle is equipped with only the standard twenty gallon fuel tank. We are unable to take advantage of the offer of free gas. We lack the capacity.

When we choose, however, to become ministers of forgiveness, we are supplied with the extra fuel tanks that we need to be able to accept our benefactor's generous offer. Our capacity to receive forgiveness grows along with our capacity to forgive. And as our capacity to forgive grows, so does our ability to receive all the blessings, the enduring joy and peace, that God, in his abundant mercy and love, wants to shower upon us.

Lord, we believe in the forgiveness of sins.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Amen.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday (St Ninian)

Took it fairly easy today. Got in a good long walk in the morning. Did a bit of laundry. Watched an entire Cubs game, which doesn't happen very often. Packed and hit the road at 6:30. Camping out in Mt Vernon ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Mark's, West Frankfort.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended by email to an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Began developing my sermon outline for Proper 23 (October 15 at St Matthew's, Bloomington) into a full-fledged rough draft.
  • Interrupted this work for an 11am appointment with a priest from outside the diocese who is interested in rectifying that situation and coming to work here. We had a very productive conversation.
  • Went to lunch with said priest, along with the mutual friend from St Louis who drove him to Springfield, and Brenda, at Cooper's Hawk on the west side.
  • Returned (on the late side--long lunch) to finish my homiletical work.
  • Friday prayers--at the cathedral organ bench playing through material from the Hymnal 1940. Discarded relics suddenly become newly-discovered treasures, fueling good prayer.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Left for home on the early side, around 4:30.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Holy Cross

  • What better way to begin the day than by offering Morning Prayer while on a treadmill?! (thank-you, technology) I didn't pray the entire time I was on it, but it did consume about the first 20 minutes. 
  • At my desk and attacking my to-do list just a little later than the normal time, given my successful attempt at synergy. 
  • Attended via email to an emerging administrative/pastoral concern.
  • Worked on my homily for the synod Mass, taking it from "developed outline" to "rough draft."
  • Hand-wrote notes of greeting to the clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in October. 
  • Spoke by phone with one of our priests on an urgent personal pastoral matter.
  • Attended Mass for Holy Cross day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from HyVee, eaten at home (pulled pork).
  • Spoke by phone, substantively but relatively briefly, with the Acting Dean of Nashotah House.
  • Handled a handful of emails as they came (if I can do so in under two minutes, that's my policy).
  • Drafted the text of the next-up short catechetical video in the Seven Habits of Well-Formed Christian Disciples series.
  • Since I serve on the board for Forward Movement, but don't regularly read their flagship publication, the daily devotional Forward Day by Day, I make it a point to look at a core sample from each quarterly booklet, just to check for quality. The third quarter 2017 authors all seem to be pretty good.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday (St Cyprian)

  • Task planning and a good bit of internet reading at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for the midday Mass.
  • Conferred briefly with Paige about an issue pertaining to the Springfield Current.
  • Responded by email to one of our clergy over a pastoral matter.
  • Sent a substantive email to the Chancellor soliciting his counsel on an emerging matter.
  • Responded at some length to a letter (fairly long) from a member of the greater Nashotah House constituency.
  • Took a brief rapid walk in the neighborhood.
  • Presided and preached at Mass for the lesser feast of St Cyprian of Carthage.
  • Lunch from China 1, eaten at home.
  • Blew a frustrating hour on some personal business. (The IRS and I have divergent opinions on a particular detail, and they apparently don't actually speak to anyone on the phone, despite the fact that they have a phone number.)
  • Took another walk, first to clear my head, then to conceive the broad strokes of my address to synod. Got back to the office and spent the next 30 minutes or so getting my thoughts into pixels. Walking to get ideas has proven to be an effective technique several times now.
  • Scanned and organized a thick stack of hard copy material. This can be time-consuming, but, over the long term, makes life rather easier.
  • Evening Prayer in the car on the way home.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday (John Henry Hobart)

  • Out of the house earlyish to keep an 8:20 appointment with my primary care doctor.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, a bit on the later-than-usual side.
  • Consulted briefly with Paige on a website issue.
  • Edited, refined, and printed the working text of my homily for this Sunday (St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Took a brisk 20-minute walk in the immediate environs.
  • Assembled a package of various liturgical and musical items pertaining to the synod Eucharist and sent them off as email attachments to Fr Halt.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Took care of an administrative chore pertaining to last weekend's visit to my Mississippi DEPO parish last weekend. For various frustrating technical reasons, it took longer than it should have.
  • Chaired a two-hour meeting via conference call of the Nashotah House Board of Directors.
  • Processed the slew of emails that had arrived during the conference call.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Lord's Day (XIV Pentecost)

Preached the Word of God, presided at the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, confirmed three adults, and baptized a nine-year old girl named Trinity--all at Trinity Church in Yazoo City, Mississippi, to which I provide episcopal oversight and pastoral care as a delegate of Mississippi's bishop, Brian Seage. For a bishop, it really doesn't get any more fun than that. Brenda and I hit the road right at 1pm and pulled into our driveway at 10:45, having been delayed significantly in northern Mississippi by something (we yet know not what) that tool *all* traffic off the northbound lanes of I-55. Lots of emergency vehicles, so it was certainly nothing good.

Sermon for Proper 18

Trinity, Yazoo City, MS--Matthew 18:15-20, Romans 13:8-14, Ezekiel 33:7-11

In these days of sophisticated practices around human resources, when someone quits a job, or sometimes even when they’re fired, they’re often asked to participate in something called an exit interview. The employer wants some feedback. What’s it like to work at that place? What do they do well? What could they do better. That sort of thing.

Now, people leave church congregations all the time, I’m sorry to say. Of course, it’s pretty rare for someone to get “fired” from a church—as a parishioner, that is. But people certainly “resign” in a fairly steady stream, for all sorts of reasons, sometimes loudly and sometimes quietly. Yet, churches don’t do exit interviews, do they? Many would say that we should, but we don’t. But if we did, if churches did do exit interviews, what would we hear from those who are on their way out the back door?

Well, a few would certainly mention stuff like music or preaching or other details of worship. People do leave churches over those kinds of concerns. But thirty years of pastoral ministry tell me that the vast majority would cite a broken relationship—perhaps with the pastor, but more often with a fellow parishioner—as their reason for leaving.

Relationships are important. Having a community to which we know we deeply belong is hugely important. People in our society are hungry for it. And, it’s important for the witness of the gospel to the world; the good news we proclaim is about transcending deep differences of race and ethnicity, deep differences of culture and education, deep differences in economic status. And how do we transcend these profound differences? We don’t, but God does, by making us one in his Son, one in Christ. And this is a really big deal, not only for us, because we get to be made one in Christ, but it’s also a big deal for the world around us, because it’s what establishes our credibility. It is our community life as Christians that makes or breaks our credibility in the world’s eyes. It’s really Job #One for us. If we can’t be reconciled with one another, how can we proclaim to the world that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation?

But maintaining relationships and living in community put us in an emotionally very vulnerable position. We are all flawed, sinful human beings. We say things and do things that hurt other people—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. We criticize, we judge, we demean, we exploit, we take for granted, we manipulate. All of us are perpetrators of these acts, and all of us are victims of them. Even within the community of the church, the family of the church, we behave this way, and we experience others behaving this way.

Jesus comes to us today with a clear set of instructions about how to deal with this sort of thing, how to deal with the fact that we offend and hurt one another in our life together. If you think someone in the church has behaved badly toward you, don’t just stew about it, don’t just gossip about it, go to that person and tell them. Now, you don’t need to be a jerk; you can be respectful and polite. But say something. It could be that they’ll go, “Thanks, I needed that.” Think how much better you’ll feel then. (I’m paraphrasing a bit, I realize.) But if they blow you off, go back, and this time take a couple of others with you, so that there are witnesses, at least, and maybe one of them will be able to get through where you couldn’t. Well, if they still blow you off, then, and only then, go public. Call them out. Let the entire church community rise to the occasion and have the guts to exercise some discipline toward one among them who is behaving badly.

Any questions?

There’s a famous line from a famous book by an Anglican liturgical scholar about the command of our Lord at the Last Supper to “Do this in remembrance of me.” The author asks, “Was ever another command so obeyed,” and then proceeds, with great eloquence, covering about a half page in one sentence, he proceeds to catalog the various circumstances and ways the Eucharist has been celebrated over the last 2000 years. Whenever I encounter this gospel text from Matthew 18, I feel like turning that quote on its head: “Was ever another command so disobeyed?” I mean, really … honestly … who does this?! Have you ever seen it done that way, with all three steps, resulting in some sort of discipline? I haven’t. Certainly not in the Episcopal Church, at least. I’ve heard about it in groups like the Amish, but not among mainstream Christians.

Why is this? Why do we not follow this clear counsel from the one whom we call Lord? There are probably lots of reasons, but mostly I think it’s because we’re frightened. To obey this command is very risky. It puts us in harm’s way. Not only did we suffer the original offense, but now we subject ourselves to even more offenses as a result of following this process. So, we know what we should do, but we’re afraid to do it. Where can we turn?

Well, no lesser light than St Paul comes to our rescue in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Christian community in Rome:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

There’s a song that says, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” right? Well, love is the sugar that makes the medicine of discipline go down. Christian discipline is not Christian discipline apart from the context, the environment, the “operating system,” if you will, of love. It is the bonds of love, and only the bonds of love, that enable us to effectively speak difficult truth in the way that Jesus invites us to. Love is what makes us feel safe in doing so. And love is what makes us effective in doing so.

We’re talking here, certainly, about God’s love for us. God loves each of us individually and infinitely. We are all, whoever we are, as the Sunday School song says, “precious in his sight.” And we love God because God first loved us. God’s love for us precedes our love for anyone else. But we’re also talking about the mutual love that exists among the community of the baptized. In the font, we are marked as Christ’s own forever, and we immediately become siblings—brothers and sisters—with everyone else who bears that mark of Christ. We are to love all people as our neighbors, of course, but it is our particular privilege to love other members of the household of faith.

Love not only liberates and empowers us to do the difficult work of reconciliation and restoration, but, on occasion, constrains us to do so. Did you pay attention to that reading from Ezekiel? It’s a little scary, actually. Translating the Old Testament context to a Christian one: If you see another member of the church engaging in bad behavior, and you warn them, and they go on with it anyway, then the consequences are on them. But if you see it, and you don’t warn them, and they suffer the consequences, then it’s on you. Their blood is on your hands. And if you warn them, and they mend their ways, then you have brought blessing on yourself.

Judgment and discipline are always oriented toward reconciliation and restoration. The process and act of judgment is bogus if it is not bounded on all sides by love, both God’s love and human love that is like God’s love.

Will any of what I’ve said make a difference in the way the people, the community, of Trinity Church in Yazoo City respond when, inevitably, one of you says or does something that is hurtful to another one of you? I don’t know. Like I said, was ever another command so disobeyed? I must confess what is probably a sinful degree of pessimism about this, not just at Trinity Church, of course, but anywhere that Christians congregate. But, it’s all about baby steps, right? If there’s one situation in this parish that gets dealt with in a healthier way because of the time we’ve spent together in Matthew’s gospel, then … praise the Lord! And just imagine the impact it would make in the world if we actually did begin to live this way. Amen.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Saturday (Martyrs of Memphis)

Always aware of the horrific weather event playing out in Florida, Brenda and I enjoyed our day with clergy and laity from Trinity, Yazoo City, MS. This included a trip up the road to Cleveland, MS, home of the new Grammy Museum. Since I knew next to nothing about popular music already, I learned quite a lot, and it's very well-done. Dinner with vestry and spouses at a place a handful of miles out of town with lots of "local color." They had fried crawfish tails, who what's not to like?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday (Nativity of the BVM)

A day of travel ahead of my visitation to my DEPO parish of Trinity, Yazoo City in the Diocese of Mississippi. Brenda and I were on the road southbound right at 11am and we pulled into the Hampton Inn, Yazoo City at 9:20pm.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thursday

As I look back on the day, beyond starting if off with some treadmill time, it was pretty much devoted to preparing for the 140th annual synod of the Diocese of Springfield. I liaised with the rector of the host parish, developed the guts of the liturgy booklet (which included going on to Church Publishing's "Rite Song" website to purchase the graphics files of some service music in the hymnal), and brought my homily for the occasion from "developed outline" to "rough draft" stage. Outside of that, I took Brenda to a dental appointment and worked on my homily for Proper 19 (September 17 at St Mark's, West Frankfort). 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday

  • Usual AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Spent more time than I would have liked chasing down some suspicious charges on my personal checking account. This involved a trip down to Illinois National Bank. It's pretty well resolved now.
  • Attended to some details pertaining to the next meeting of the Forward Movement board.
  • Consulted with Paige briefly on a website issue.
  • Began work on my homily for the synod Eucharist.
  • Once again, reported for duty in the cathedral chapel at 12:15, but nobody joined me.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Attended to a late-arriving email from the American Friends of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
  • Got back to work on my synod homily, eventually ending up with a developed outline from which I can produce a rough draft next week.
  • Worked on the in-process synod Eucharist, focusing on an occasion-appropriate Prayers of the People.
  • Gathered the comments of the clergy with whom I had vetted the draft Mission Strategy Report form and made some changes to the document in response. Sent it off to Fr Newago for his input.
  • Worked on my sermon for Proper 23 (October 15 at St Matthew's, Bloomington), taking it from the "message statement" to "developed outline" stage. Sermon preparation is mentally draining.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tuesday (Ss Boris & Gleb)

  • Daily and weekly task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended to one of the many balls in play in connection with the leadership transition at Nashotah House.
  • Spent the balance of the morning meeting with Fr Mike Newago, the new Mission Strategy Developer for the northern three deaneries of the diocese. This was essentially our first working meeting, so there were several bases to touch. I'm excited about having him with us.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Tied up some personal loose ends relating to the morning meeting.
  • Edited, refined, and printed the working text for this Sunday's homily (Trinity, Yazoo City, my DEPO parish in the Diocese of Mississippi).
  • I'm behind in my prep work for next month's annual diocesan synod. So I got to work planning the synod Eucharist. Decided we'll do the votive Mass "Of the Reign of Christ." Selected appropriate hymns and service music to go with that theme. Made some notes on related loose ends that are at risk of getting lost in the shuffle.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Lord's Day (XIII Pentecost)

The beginning of the day was almost decadently merciful: We didn't have to leave the house until 9:30, arriving in Morton about an hour later ahead of the regular 11am Mass at All Saints'. Presided, preached, and confirmed two adults. Then out to a Mexican lunch with Fr Matthew Dallman. Home around 3:00. Sunday is invariably my favorite day of the week.

Sermon for Proper 17

All Saints, Morton--Matthew 16:21-28

Unless you’ve been completely hiding under a rock for last week, you’ve seem pictures and videos of the flooding and destruction in the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And unless you’re totally without an empathetic bone in your body, you’ve been horrified and heartbroken by the descriptions of how this has been a catastrophe for tens of thousands of people, and a dislocating huge inconvenience for a couple of million more. Through my church connections and family connections, I know lots of people in the Houston area, so it’s been more than abstract for me. There are names and faces attached to the suffering.

Of course, there’s nothing unusual or extraordinary about any of this. Suffering and pain are all around us, part of the daily fabric of our lives. We suffer personally, for ourselves, and we suffer vicariously, along with others, both those whom we know and love and those whom we only read about or hear about. We suffer in trivial and minimal ways—a knick from a shaving razor or a traffic signal that turns red just before we get to the intersection, and when we’re late for an appointment. We also suffer in profound and tragic ways—losing a loved one to death, particularly if that death is, as we say euphemistically, “premature.” And we certainly suffer in countless ways that are neither trivial nor tragic, but just ordinary. Relationships go sour for any number of reasons, we don’t make the team, or get into our first choice of college, or get the job we knew was perfect for us. Retirement plans don’t work out quite as we had imagined. As the years pile up, our minds and bodies slowly work less and less efficiently and effectively. Suffering in all these ways is just part of life.

At times, Christians have believed that suffering is invariably sent by God as a punishment for sin. A few years ago, I read a novel about life in an English cathedral city in the fourteenth century. When the Plague arrived and people started dying in droves, the first conclusion most people jumped to was that the victims—or the town collectively—had displeased God in some really major way, and sickness was a just punishment for their sins. But this has never been a very satisfying explanation. In the first instance, epidemics seem to be no respecter of moral status; both the just and the unjust fall victim. Saints get sick and die in epidemics with the same frequency as sinners.

And when we simply take suffering on its own terms, the outlook seems even gloomier. When we accept suffering as something that just is, as morally neutral, then it is difficult to see in it any meaning or significance. The best we can say to the people whose lives have been upended in Texas is, “Well, stuff happens. Get over it.” By this account, when cancer cells metastasize or someone gets behind the wheel drunk, or a quarrel with his wife the previous night causes an airplane inspector to miss noticing evidence of metal fatigue, we are nothing more than helpless victims. Our suffering has no meaning, no purpose, no significance. It’s just a fact. And this is a singularly depressing thought. It leads eventually and inevitably to terminal despair, and despair—loss of hope— is a spiritually fatal condition. It separates us from God as surely as the very gates of Hell.

This is how it must have seemed to Peter and the other apostles when Jesus announced to them his impending suffering and death. He had recruited them on a mission that they presumed was going to culminate in Jesus somehow seizing political power, kicking out the Roman occupiers, and re-establishing God’s righteous rule over Israel through a royal descendent of King David—namely, Jesus. So when he starts talking to them about going up to Jerusalem and suffering at the hands of the Jewish religious establishment, and finally getting killed, they thought he must have eaten the wrong sort of wild mushrooms for breakfast. He was departing from the script that they thought came directly from him. Peter in particular could not abide the thought of everything Jesus had said and done (and everything he had led Peter in saying and doing) simply ending with Jesus’ suffering and death—nothing accomplished, nothing brought to completion, no grand triumph, just senseless suffering and meaningless victimhood. The thought filled him with despair.

But if we pay close attention to what Jesus says, we see the seeds of something different: Jesus will go to Jerusalem, not be taken there. It is something proactive and voluntary on his part. He is no mere helpless victim. And then Jesus counsels his followers to take up the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” He’s not talking about accepting the cross, or having it laid on them. I’ve always been struck how, when we walk the Stations of the Cross during Lent, the traditional name of the Second Station is “Jesus takes up his cross.” There’s nothing passive about it. It’s by an affirmative act that he ends up on the cross.

We know, of course, from hindsight, what the fruit, the long-term effect, of Jesus’ Passion turns out to be: the salvation of our souls and the redemption of the world; the conquest of evil and victory of truth and love. Included in all this, of course, is the cessation of suffering—both minor suffering and major suffering. Part of our incorporation into Christ is to bend our experience to the pattern of his life and death. This doesn’t mean that we seek out suffering unnecessarily. As most of us have learned, suffering will find us soon enough; we don’t have to go looking for it. But conforming ourselves to the redemptive pattern of our Lord’s suffering does mean that we embrace the suffering that comes our way intentionally. We don’t let it tackle us from behind; we turn and face it and embrace it. We “take it up,” even as Jesus took up his cross.

Such suffering—suffering that is molded to the pattern of Christ’s suffering—has the capacity to be not only “un-meaningless,” but actually redemptive. Suffering that we take up, and offer up, intentionally in union with the redemptive suffering of Christ, becomes a thread in the great tapestry that God is weaving as he brings light out of the darkest places in human experience, wholeness out of the most broken pieces of our lives, truth from the very midst of falsehood and confusion, life from the jaws of death, and hope from the deepest pit of despair. This is a redemption that is signed and sealed with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is delivered one day at a time, one life at a time, one hurt at the time. When we take up the cross, we participate in that delivery of redemption.

We will probably not, in this life, see how that happens. We will not know the impact that every little decision we make to embrace suffering rather than let ourselves be passive victims has on the lives of others and the fabric of redemption. But it does. In that assurance we can place our faith.

Suffering, as we have seen, “happens.” We can try to evade it, and perhaps succeed at times for a while. But it will catch up with us all eventually. We can accept it passively or fatalistically, along the lines of “Que serĂ¡ serĂ¡.” But that leaves us as victims and our suffering as meaningless. Nothing is more tragic than meaningless suffering! As disciples of Jesus, though, we have the invitation to “read ourselves” into the story of Christ’s redemption of the world through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday (David Pendleton Oakerhater)


  • Attended 8am MP & Mass in St Mary's Chapel, Nashotah House
  • Went to breakfast in the refectory.
  • Met with the Director of Institutional Research
  • Mett with the Dean of Finance & Administration
  • Ht the road southbound around 10:30. While en route, kept a phone date with someone doing fundraising feasibility research for the possible establishment of an Anglican Centre in Santiago de Compostela.
  • Got home around 3:00. Unpacked, changed clothes, caught up on email.
  • At Brenda's insistence, made yet another visit to the urgent care clinic. Over the past six days I have developed "angry" insect bite sites on my arms and legs that are getting worse rather than better. A couple of them look infected. So I'm on a course of oral antibiotics, and have two topical ointments (one steroidal, one not--the latter for use on broken skin). Never a dull moment.