Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXI Pentecost)

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

Sermon for Proper 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “In Africa.”

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

            “I did. And many others through them.”

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

“Lord, why am I so weak?”

            “Because I love you.”

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

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

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

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

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

But we don't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ss Simon & Jude

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday (Alfred the Great)

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tuesday

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday (Henry Martyn)

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

St Luke

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday (St Ignatius of Antioch)

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Lord's Day (XIX Pentecost)

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

Sermon for Proper 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday (S. I. J. Schereschrewsky)

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday

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

Address to Synod, 2017

Bloomington, Illinois--13 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon at Synod Mass, 2017

St Matthew's, Bloomington--John 18:33-37, Daniel 7:9-14, Colossians 1:11-20

There’s no saint’s day on today’s calendar, so we’re celebrating a votive Mass of the Reign of Christ, which is to say, Christ the King. Right away, I think we need to acknowledge that this is a bit of an awkward notion for Americans. We are steeped in egalitarian democracy, the idea that no one is inherently better than anyone else. We may not actually live that way, but it’s the underlying ideology of our culture. So monarchy is a hard concept to get our heads around. We don’t have a king. We don’t have a queen. Our political ancestors fought a war to overturn the authority of a king. Rebellion is in our DNA. Monarchy is an abstraction for us, a thought experiment, a fantasy. But it’s not a concrete political reality. We’ve never had to work out the details of what it would be like to live under royal authority.

Now, it may be some bit easier for our British cousins, but, even then, not completely. Sure, Great Britain has a queen—a much beloved and widely admired queen, as a matter of fact—but her authority and power are severely constrained by centuries of evolved custom. Have you seen that TV show, The Crown? If you have, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a staggering list of subtleties and nuances that a British monarch has to navigate. Long gone are the days, in most parts of the world, where a king or queen can simple rule by decree. “Off with their heads!”

The kingship of Christ that we celebrate today, and every year on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, is, by contrast, wild, free, unrestrained, unfettered. It is complete sovereignty, as illustrated in the vision of the prophet Daniel:

            I saw in the night visions,
            and behold, with the clouds of heaven
                        there came one like a son of man,
            and he came to the Ancient of Days
                        and was presented before him.
            And to him was given dominion
                        and glory and a kingdom,
            that all peoples, nations, and languages
                        should serve him;
            his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
                        which shall not pass away,
            and his kingdom one
                        that shall not be destroyed.

The gospel appointed for this liturgy is almost comically ironic, a burlesque of kingship. Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate—on trial for his life. This passage doesn’t include the bit about the crown of thorns and Jesus being dressed in purple and mocked by the soldiers, but it’s along those lines. Jesus appears to be a victim, being judged by a cynical technocrat in the bureaucracy of the Roman Empire. But John wants us to see it differently. He turns the scene on its head, and Jesus is revealed to be the one doing the judging, and it is the world that stands in the dock, waiting to be judged. Pilate comes across as the one who seems anxious and unsure of himself; Jesus is calm and in control. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus tells Pilate, which is to say, in the manner of a six-year old, “You’re not the boss of me!” You may think you have me, but you don’t really have me.

In John’s gospel, even more than in the others, it’s clear that Jesus is not any kind of victim. He hands himself over to what happens, he volunteers for it. Everything that happens to him happens according to a plan, and that plan is nothing less than to save the world, a world that needs saving because it is “divided and enslaved by sin.”

The collect for this votive Mass, which is the same one we use on the feast of Christ the King in November, speaks of humankind as “divided and enslaved by sin.” We are divided from one another by all sorts of things. In recent weeks and months in our country, we’ve been focusing on racial division. But we have, of course, been divided by sex—male and female—since time out of mind. We are divided by language and culture, by educational and economic status, by being fans of the Cubs or fans of the Cardinals—you name it! And at the root of virtually all our divisions is sin—an inherited propensity to worship our own egos, to put ourselves where only God should be.

The collect says we are also enslaved by sin. This propensity to worship ourselves is something that binds us. It controls us. It lies behind family dysfunction and divorce and gang violence and drunk driving and pyramid schemes and world wars. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t choose it. We were born this way. And we are powerless to do anything about it. There is no amount of determination or grit that can enable a person to overcome enslavement to sin, and the division—and ultimately, death—that results. We are in a world of hurt.

What does God do about it? Does God just sit by smugly, watching us dangle? Or does he act? St Paul, writing to the Colossians, suggests that God has acted: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Or, in the language of Eucharistic Prayer B from our Prayer Book: In Christ, God has “brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”

In short, getting back to the language of the collect now, God has taken us who were enslaved and freed us. He has taken us who were divided and reconciled us. We have been “freed and brought together.” But this liberating and reconciling doesn’t just happen in a vacuum; no, rather, we are freed and brought together under his most gracious rule. There is an infrastructure, an operating environment, for our freedom and reconciliation, and it is the “gracious rule” of Christ the King.

By his saving acts on our behalf, Jesus has, in effect, earned the status from which he can rightfully command our ultimate allegiance. To have a Lord, to have a King, to have monarch is to have, using some very old-fashioned language now, a liege—you can still hear that word if you watch enough old movies about the middle ages. A liege is one to whom we pledge allegiance—that is, fealty (another old-fashioned word), obedience, service.

When we do this with an earthly monarch, when a subject of the United Kingdom pledges allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, for example, there’s an implied contract, a presumed understanding, that in return for our allegiance, the monarch will provide a social infrastructure and a security framework that will encourage our flourishing, that will enable us to lead happy and peaceful lives. The lord in the manor house on the hill ruled the serfs who worked the fields, but it was his also his duty to protect them from malicious outsiders and to maintain civil order. They didn’t always do that, or do it well, but that was the working assumption. Now, Jesus’ sovereignty is so absolute that there can be no implied contract of this sort. God owes us nothing. But, the reign of Christ is, as the collect says, “most gracious.” In the kingdom of Christ, mercy abounds. This abundant mercy leads to liberation. The service of God is, as we say in our prayers, “perfect freedom.” And the abundant mercy that flows from the “most gracious rule” of Christ the King also leads to reconciliation, the coming together of those who, under the enslaving rule of this world, are at each other’s throats.

Such abundant grace appropriately commands our ultimate affection, our ultimate loyalty. It is higher than our love of ourselves, greater than our dedication to our family, above any loyalty to our country, or any other commitment, because Christ the King is, back to the first chapter of Colossians now, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

In the words of the hymn writer Isaac Watts, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”

Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thursday

  • Usual AM routine. MP in the cathedral.
  • Culled a stack of hard copy material I found waiting for me on my desk.
  • Consulted briefly with Dean Hook on a dangling synod detail.
  • Attended to some liturgical planning details for next month's clergy conference. Took longer than I anticipated.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on sundry issues.
  • Dealt by email with a pastoral issue in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Lunch from HyVee, eaten at home.
  • Ran a brief personal errand.
  • Took a long and prayerful pass at the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, in preparation for preaching that day at St Luke's, Springfield. Made appropriate notes.
  • Resumed and completed work on my next-due Covenant post and sent it on to the merciless editors (whom I love, of course). 
  • Devotions and an attenuated Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday

Had to take a personal day to accompany Brenda to a healthcare appointment in Chicago But we took the train, and, thanks to Amtrak's wifi connection, I got nearly as much work done as I would have spending the day in the office. Processed a ton of emails, worked on a sermon, continued to attend to synod details, took care of an important administrative issue. And in the process, we got to see two of our children and our Chicago granddaughter. Aside from the result of the Cubs-Nationals game, not much to complain about.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tuesday

  • Task planning for the day and for the week at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Edited, refined, and printed the working script for my homily at the synod Mass on Friday.
  • Assembled a large-print version of items that pertain to my role as the Celebrant of the synod Mass and placed them in an appropriate ceremonial binder.
  • Began the task of a final revision of my State-of-the-Diocese address to synod.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Resumed working on my synod address. Printed out a hard copy for Paige so she can coordinate some PowerPoint slides. Printed another hard copy formatted for oral delivery and stuck it in my car.
  • Presided over a telephone conference call meeting of the Nashotah House Board of Directors.
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors.
  • Edited, refined, and printed the working script for my homily at St Matthew's, Bloomington on Sunday.
  • Evening Prayer at the cathedral.
  • At home, after dinner (since the NLDS game was rained out): Took care of a chunk of Communion Partners-related business vian email.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Lord's Day (XVIII Pentecost)

Enjoyed a lively visitation, with three confirmations, at St Stephen's, Harrisburg. This is a group of joyful disciples, under the loving pastoral leadership of Fr Tim Goodman. Great local BBQ in the parish hall after Mass. Back home at 3:45.

Sermon for Proper 22

St Stephen's, Harrisburg--Matthew 21:33-43

I am by no means what you would call “savvy” when it comes to big business. But I know just enough to find it kind of interesting when the high rollers and big wheels spread their wings and create drama in that section of the universe. The way it all works kind of fascinates me. If I had a few million dollars of spare cash, for example, and I saw a corporation that I thought I could make a profit on if I bought it and broke it up and sold it off piecemeal, or at least reorganized it in some way, I could start by quietly buying shares of stock through normal channels at the market price. Then I would begin to actively seek out other major shareholders and offer them an above-market price for their shares. If my strategy succeeds, I can vote out the board of directors at the next stockholders meeting, appoint their replacements, and then make whatever changes in the management and operation of the company that I care to.

But ... you can bet that, before I accomplish all that, the senior management of the corporation is going to get wind of what I'm doing, and do everything they can do to stop me. They'll try everything they can think of to prevent me from threatening their position of influence and control. They don't own the company, you see—the stockholders  own it—but they do run the company. They're there, on site, every day, in the office, in staff meetings, on the assembly line, in the marketing department, looking over the books, and taking pride and a sense of accomplishment from turning out high quality widgets, or whatever t is they do, and making a profit while doing so. Their day to day lives are bound up with the corporation, not as a bunch of numbers on a balance sheet, but as a living, breathing, producing organism. They put in the hours, they put in the sweat, they put in the imagination—who do I think I am to just waltz in there and take things over? Sure, the shareholders are the owners, but that's only a technicality. In reality, the shareholders are a group to be ignored, if possible, and, at worst, to be pacified through misinformation. "We run this company. We're the real owners!" these folks would say.

Jesus told his listeners a parable one day about some "corporate management" that felt just this way. They were in charge of day to day operations in a vineyard and winery. They hoed the ground, and pulled weeds, and pruned vines, and harvested the grapes when they were mature. They crushed the grapes and fermented the juice and sold the wine. They did everything that needed to be done to take care of that vineyard.

But they didn't own it. From time to time, on a periodic basis, the owner of the vineyard, who lived in a distant location, would send a representative to collect the profits and distribute the agreed-upon share to those who managed and operated it. Now, this was an important transaction, even if the vineyard were to have lost money, because one of the fine points of the law was that if a certain amount of time elapsed without the owner making contact with his manager/operators, ownership of the vineyard would automatically be transferred to those who had contracted to run it.

Unfortunately for these contractors, the owner of this particular vineyard was diligent about adhering to the law, and regularly sent his representatives. So they hatched a rather intimidating plot. They started killing off the owner's representatives. They figured the owner would get their point and just leave them alone and give up his ownership interest in the vineyard. Well, they guessed wrong, because the owner finally sent his own son, thinking that surely they would respect him. This time, though, it was the owner who guessed wrong, because they killed the son just as they had killed the emissaries who came before him.

To the original readers of Matthew's gospel, it would have been very obvious what the characters in this parable symbolized. The vineyard owner is God, the operators of the vineyard are the nation of Israel, the representatives of the owner are the prophets of the Old Testament, up through John the Baptist, and the owner's son is Jesus himself. Matthew's point when he decided to include this parable in his gospel was that Israel, a fellowship based on ethnicity, was being relieved of duty in its role as the sole agent of God’s plans and purposes for the human race, and this status was being transferred to the church, a fellowship based on repentance and faith.

Well, folks, that's us! We are the church. So, how are we doing? We've had custody of God’s vineyard for almost 2,000 years now. Have we been any better stewards of it than the nation of Israel was?

Maybe, and maybe not, but that really isn't my point. The fact is, that since we all have day-to-day "operational" responsibility for it, it's almost impossible for us not    to begin to think as though we are the owners of God’s vineyard. And when we begin to think in such a way, we soon begin to act in such a way, and we are led to usurp the prerogatives of ownership. We find ourselves trying to re-invent God, not as God is, necessarily, but as we would have God be. We find ourselves trying to re-invent Christian faith and practice to conform to our needs and our whims and our egos, rather than submitting our needs and our whims and our egos to the norms of Christian faith and practice as they have been revealed—revealed, that is, by the God whom we did not invent, but who invented us. A passion for what is true is replaced by a passion for what "works"—what "works,” that is, for me. We slip into the grasp of the deadliest of all sins, the sin of pride, which is attempting to put ourselves in the place of God. We say to ourselves, "I run this operation, so I may as well own it. Why should I be a slave to some absentee owner?"

The operators of the vineyard in Jesus's parable knew they were on shaky ground. As much as they wanted to own the vineyard, they knew that they did not. They had contracted to run it for a share of the proceeds, and that was exactly the basis on which they were being treated. The same holds true for us, we who make up the church. We are not stockholders in God’s kingdom. God himself is the sole stockholder. We are managers and laborers. The word "church" means "those who are called out." God has called us out from the world and into the church. We did not choose him. He chose us. According to the terms of our covenant with him—a covenant born in the death and resurrection of Christ, sealed in our baptism, and renewed at every Eucharist— we are the stewards of God’s vineyard. A steward is not an owner. A steward is a caretaker, a trustee—in legal terms, one with a fiduciary responsibility.

As a community of stewards, we have three fundamental responsibilities. First, we are to live and model among ourselves the values of the gospel, the values of the kingdom of God. Among these values is community—a community in which the core values involve loving and forgiving one another, bearing one another's burdens, and being present for each other in time of need. But this is not just for our own benefit, to make us feel better and be happier. It is necessary for reasons of missionary strategy. It is part of the mission of the church to be a foretaste, a "sneak preview,” of the kingdom of heaven. If there is not something palpably different about the way we relate to each other than the way people "in the world" relate to each other, then our witness is of no consequence.

Second, the church is to announce the kingdom of God. "Get ready, world, the kingdom is coming (and, by the way, if you want to see what it looks like, look at us)."

Finally, we are to make disciples. This means we first have to live as disciples ourselves, and then our invitation to others to join us on the same road will be authentic and have integrity.

Living the gospel, announcing the kingdom, and making disciples are the ways in which we as the church are faithful stewards of the vineyard God has placed in our charge. It is always tempting to usurp the privileges of ownership and change these basic duties. But that is a path that, in the end, will not lead us where we want to go. If we remain faithful to our covenant of stewardship, though, God, the true owner, will reward us beyond any of our hopes or expectations. Unlike the shareholders of a corporation, our "sole stockholder" happens to love us infinitely, and has already made us his heir. There is absolutely no need for us to take over the company!

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saturday

Beyond just puttering around the house, the main accomplishment of the day was to plot my sermon preparation between Advent Sunday 2017 and the Last Sunday after the Epiphany 2018. This involves looking at each occasion and determining whether I have old material I can freshen up and repurpose, or whether I need to come up with something from scratch. It can break either way. I left home around 6:45 and headed south. Camped out now in Mt Vernon ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Stephen's, Harrisburg.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday (William Tyndale)

  • A "normal" day in the office, which feels rather strange!
  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Processed some late-arriving email.
  • Refined and printed the working text of my homily for this Sunday at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Reviewed and processed a request for a marital judgment.
  • Responded by email to one of our clergy on a pastoral matter.
  • Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at home.
  • Created and sent another batch email using Gnosis. It gets easier each time.
  • Discussed with the Administrator and the Archdeacon the usual annual request from the Treasurer of the DFMS for a financial commitment for 2018. Responsibility for responding has been delegated to our own Treasurer.
  • Attended by email to a couple of diocesan ECW-related issues.
  • Attended to some residual Forward Movement business.
  • Conceived and hatched my next post for the Covenant blog.
  • Spent the better part of an hour in contemplative prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday (St Francis)

Met with the Forward Movement board in Cincinnati all day for a very lively and sometimes uncomfortable session. Drove home during the late afternoon/evening. Taking tomorrow off to visit with some out-of-town friends who are visiting. Back in this space on Friday.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday

From home in the morning: Organized tasks, processed a stack of emails, worked on some admin details regarding the November clery conference, attended to some Communion Partners business. Hit the road eastbound at noon. Arrived in Cincinnati at 6:30 (EDT) for dinner with the Forward Movement board ahead of tomorrow's meeting.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

Celebrated and preached for and with the good people of St Mary's, Robinson. Their regular service time is 8am, so I was back on the road at 9:40. Got home 2:45 later, rested a bit, then headed to St Paul's Cathedral with Brenda. Blessed their new organ, then stayed around with a capacity crowd for a lovely dedicatory recital.

Sermon for Proper 21

St Mary's, Robinson--Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:28-32

At the risk of stating the obvious—as Christians, one of the expectations we have of ourselves, and of our fellow Christians, is that we gradually come to think and act more and more like Jesus. That’s just a given, right? We believe that we are called to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that it is specifically through the experience of Christian faith and the practice of Christian religion—the indwelling Holy Spirit, the grace of the sacraments, the power of the Word of God operating in our lives—we believe it is through these means that we are supplied with the resources we need to become Christ-like.

For the most part, this way of thinking is an effective map that gets us where we want to go. But, sooner or later, we run into a glitch—an anomaly, an exception—that seems to call the whole framework into question. I’m talking about the conundrum presented by what we might call the “unbelieving saint”—in other words, an individual who has demonstrably Christ-like character, but who does not believe in Christ, or profess to follow him. Mahatma Gandhi is probably the most high-profile example of this phenomenon in living memory, but we have probably all known a truly good and noble and ethical person who may be nominally Christian, but is not active in the Church, or perhaps even patently non-Christian, or even anti-Christian or anti-religion-in-general: a truly lovable atheist!

I am reminded of such “unbelieving saints” when I read this parable of our Lord about the father who asked his two sons to help him out with some agricultural chores. The first one says “No—sorry, Dad, but I’m not available to work in the vineyard today.” In his words, he denied his father’s request. In actual fact, however, he showed up for work. So with his behavior, he granted the request that he had denied with his words. Indeed, we have people who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling or simply won’t bother to say the Creed, or to formally profess Christianity, but who behave in ways that are exemplary of the way Christians are supposed to behave. They say “No” but they do “Yes”—they walk in love, justice, righteousness, and peace. They help stitch together and build up the fabric of human community. In their lives, they honor a God whose very existence they may deny.

Equally perplexing is the conundrum of what we might call the “orthodox scoundrel.” This is an openly religious person—maybe even a priest or a bishop, maybe even an influential Christian teacher or writer or musician—who is puffed up, self-important, judgmental, condescending, inconsiderate, and generally obnoxious in his or her personality. We’ve all known such people. Maybe we’ve even been such people at times!

In today’s parable, there’s also a second son who is asked by his father to work in the vineyard. His verbal response is along the lines of, “Sure, Dad. Count me in. Let me go get my overalls on.” But in fact, he never shows up. In word, he says “Yes,” but in deed, he says “No.” With his behavior, he denies the request he had granted with his words. So, we have people who are impeccably orthodox in the doctrine they profess. They may be pillars of the Church—serving on the vestry or the Altar Guild, showing up wherever the doors of the church are open. But their lives are marked by pettiness, egotism, manipulation, suspicion, and back-stabbing, abusing and exploiting the people whose lives cross their path. They say “Yes” but they do “No.”

Now, while we would have to agree with Jesus that the first of these profiles—saying “No” but doing “Yes”—is preferable to the second—saying “Yes” but doing “No”—neither of them is really ideal. The ideal would be a consistency between words and deeds—saying “Yes” and doing “Yes,” openly following Christ in the fellowship of his Church, but also living a life characterized by genuine personal holiness, the flowering of both the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, and an authentic sense of vocation and mission.

Fortunately, we have a model for just this sort of life. It is described for us by St Paul in the second chapter of his epistle to the Philippians.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Christ “emptied himself.” The self-emptying Christ is our model of consistency between word and deed, saying Yes and doing Yes. The self-emptying of Christ as described by St Paul, which led inexorably to humiliation and death on the cross, can be viewed in the light of Jesus’ own teaching about self-denial: “He who would be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” And “self denial,” in turn, is another way of speaking about “dying to self.” The path of self-emptying consistency between words and deeds leads us through the territory of dying to ourselves: dying to the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, dying to the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, dying to the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God, dying to that which is merely good, in order to have that which is God’s best for us.


The self-emptying of Christ, then, is more than just an example for us to emulate. It is a sacramental experience into which we are incorporated. This happens when we’re baptized, and then we spend the rest of our lives unpacking the experience. The self-emptying of Christ conforms Christians—those who follow Christ in both word and deed—the self-emptying of Christ conforms us to nothing other than, nothing less than, the shape of the cross, the shape of Christ’s own cross. There is no evading the cross. We must come to know its shape—through suffering—if we are ever going to know it as the “way of life and peace.”

But the very shape of the cross also contains the hint, the glimmer, of what lies beyond it. St Paul continues
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The destiny to which self-emptying conforms us is one of resurrected glory. The end result of both saying Yes and doing Yes is participation in the glory of the risen Christ, complete joy in the presence of God. Let our words be our deeds, and our deeds be our words. See you in the vineyard! Amen.