Thursday, November 30, 2017

St Andrew

One final most-of-a-morning of informal conversation with the attendees of this meeting of the Bishops of Small Dioceses, then we all headed to the airport. For me, this involved riding the great new light rail system in Salt Lake City. Urban mass transit is kind of a nerdy interest of mine. But my flight wasn't until 4:00, so I had a lot of time to kill at the departure gate. The flight to Chicago and the short hop to Springfield both went smoothly, and I got a rather enormous (relatively speaking) amount of reading done, for which I was very grateful, as I feel chronically deprived of time to read. Home a little past 10.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday

Endured ... err ... enjoyed a morning seminar on Title IV (clergy discipline) canons. Aren’t you envious? After lunch, we spend quality time with a rep from the Church Pension Group. Ordained ministry is fraught with trials and challenges, but Episcopal clergy can certainly be grateful for a top-shelf pension plan that has so many benefits beyond just pure pension. The CPG is dedicated to clergy health in every dimension. This was followed by time with Canon Michael Hunn, the Presiding Bishop's right hand man, and then a simple celebration of the Eucharist in anticipation of St Andrew's Day. We all had dinner together at a very fine eatery in downtown SLC.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday (Kamehameha & Emma)

Up and out in time to catch the 10:30 United departure to Chicago, then, with just enough time to make it to my next gate before boarding started, on to Salt Lake City. Caught the light rail to downtown, checked into the Hilton, rested a bit, then walked a little more than half a mile to the Diocese of Utah cathedral/office complex for the pre-dinner social time with other "bishops of small dioceses." Seven others in attendance this time. We spent most of the evening with "check in" time, which is always part-cathartic and part-enlightening.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday (C.S, Lewis)

  • Got bogged down in some technology issues while still at home, so ... a bit of a late start to the morning. Short-form MP at my desk once I got to the office.
  • Dealt by substantive emails with a couple of pastoral/administrative (as sharply distinguished, of course, from administrative/pastoral) issues. As much as I may complain about email, I am, on balance, immensely grateful for it. I can't imagine doing what I do with the technology of yesteryear.
  • Lost time with conversations and phone calls that we peripheral to "business," as it were. It feels hard to get traction on work this day before a long holiday weekend (I have no visitation this Sunday, so it will indeed be an actual holiday weekend for me).
  • Took an initial fly by on the readings for Epiphany I, in preparation for preaching at Trinity, Lincoln on January 7. Disappointed in a major way with what the Revised Common Lectionary has done with the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Cleaned up some loose ends on the morning's sermon work.
  • Having collected advice from key players, I proposed to the Bishop of Tabora some tentative dates for his next visit to the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Attended to a piece of business pertaining to Cursillo.
  • Reviewed the draft minutes from last Friday's regular meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Attended to a couple of routine monthly personal organization calendar-maintenance chores (including making sure I have the correct service times for my December visitations, in this case, and that I've set up reminders to make sure I've connected with the relevant clergy regarding pertinent details).
  • Cleaned up my computer desktop--more routine maintenance.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral a bit on the early side.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Attended to a short stack of administrative details regarding an individual in the ordination process, breaking away at points to field incoming emails on the fly.
  • Dealt by email with a pastoral issue.
  • The IRS thinks I owe them money. I disagree. So I bravely entered whatever circle of hell it is that's required to reach them by phone. While on hold (the music and intermittent announcement forming another aspect of the general hellishness of the experience), I made some progress on deconstructing and reconstructing a sermon text for Advent I from 1999 for use this year at St John's, Centralia.
  • The IRS issue finally having been resolved around 12:25 (sadly, not in a way I had hoped), and cognizant that the periodic limited appearance of the McRib sandwich is in season, I stopped by McD's for one, and ate it at home.
  • Back in the office, I finished the work I had begun on the Advent homily.
  • Dealt by email with an ongoing pastoral issue on behalf of one of our clergy.
  • Continued participation in an email conversation with the chairman of a board that would like to elect me to membership. The organization is dedicated to a purpose about which I care very deeply, and they only meet by conference call and don't seem to be conflicted or have financial woes, so ...
  • Dealt by email with an administrative/pastoral matter that called for the exercise of some episcopal authority.
  • As part of an ongoing project of converting as much to pixels rather than paper, spent some quality time with both my desktop scanner and the network copies/printer, which also scans.
  • Met with a lay communicant of the diocese who is on the cusp of exploring a potential vocation to ordained ministry.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXV Pentecost)

Today's visitation was to St Barnabas', Havana, and this Eucharistic Community under the patronage of the one whose name means "son of encouragement" is indeed both encouraged and encouraging. They went through a very rough patch but are now enjoying a season of happiness. 24 live bodies in the room for Mass was about triple the number the last time I was there. Kudos to Fr Mike Newago for his pastoral leadership.


Sermon for Proper 28

St Barnabas’, Havana--Matthew 25:14-15, 19 29; Zepheniah 1:7,12-18;  I Thessalonians 5:1-10
                                                                                 
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician and research scientist of the eighteenth century. Among many illustrious accomplishments, he is known for a particular argument in favor of belief in God. It has become known as “Pascal’s Wager,” and it’s really quite simple. Consider the possibilities: Either there is a God to whom we are accountable in the next life for the way we conduct ourselves in this one, or there is not. If we do not believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be no such God, then we may be right, but what will it matter? If we do believe in God, and turn out to be wrong, then the most we might reproach ourselves for, in the moment of death, the moment before eternal annihilation, is that we have unnecessarily foregone some of life’s material pleasures. If, on the other hand, we do believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be such a God, then we will have been right, and it will matter a great deal. But it’s the fourth logical possibility that is the zinger in Pascal’s wager: If we disbelieve in God, and it turns out that we were wrong, then there are enormously unpleasant consequences, and we will have eternity to regret the choice we have made.

So it boils down to how much do you have to lose by being wrong? If you bet in favor of God, and are wrong, you lose a few of life passing pleasures for a few years on this earth. If you bet against God, and are wrong, you lose a chance at everlasting joy and peace and fulfillment beyond imagination. Which risk does it make more sense to take?

Pascal’s wager, of course, isn’t entirely convincing, because many people still, by the way they live their lives, bet against the existence of a God who will one day judge them. But to those who are more mentally and emotionally mature, and are inclined to take a long view of things—a very long view, in this case—today;s readings from Holy Scripture offer some reinforcement and encouragement.

The prophet Zephaniah, writing in the seventh century before Christ, speaks of the dreadful “day of the Lord,” when distress and anguish and darkness and gloom will descend upon the earth, and there will be no escape for those who are being justly punished for their unrighteous behavior. Zephaniah makes a point of observing that God cannot be bought or bribed; even those with great fortunes will not be able to purchase an exemption from divine wrath.

This notion, of course, is echoed in many other places. On the whole, the Bible has a very cautionary attitude toward wealth. Not only can it not buy God’s favor, it may be an actual hindrance to the reception of Grace. St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians also speaks of the futility of relying on material resources as a buffer against the wrathful judgment of God: “When people say, ‘There will be peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.” In other words, when the labor pains start, something is going to get born, and it will happen whether one is rich or poor.

So, in the season when we expect to come to church and hear a sermon about money, I’m not going to disappoint you! I’m going to hold up the question, What do these passages say about the Christian’s relationship with his or her bank account? What are the biblical principles of asset management? I would suggest to you that one of the things they tell us is that Christian stewardship is a good bet. It’s like Pascal’s wager written in lower case letters, applied to a specific situation. If there is no God, and we live this life as if our material and financial resources really do belong to us, then we’ll still die, and we still can’t take it with us, especially if there’s nowhere to go. If we do live as though everything indeed comes from and belongs to God, and there turns out to not be a God, then, sure, we may have given up the chance to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but they will have to face the Grim Reaper just like we do, and all their billions won’t matter in that moment. On the other hand, if there is a God, and we manage to live as though we realize that we are tenants and not landlords, we will be most blessed and fortunate. And if we bet the other way, and go through life exploiting Somebody Else’s—meaning God’s—money, we will most miserable.

So, which bet do you want? Which risk seems the more acceptable? It’s just a matter of taking the long view, and there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it. It’s the same impulse that led hundreds of thousands of people in the 1990s to invest in new stock offerings that ended in “.com” even though the companies had never made one dime of profit. It’s taking a chance now for the sake of tremendous rewards in the future. When the Day of the Lord has come and gone, the tangible and in the intangible, the material and the spiritual, will have traded places. What is fleeting and ephemeral now will be hard currency then, and what is prudent and rock solid now will have turned to dust and ashes on that day.

Yet, how difficult it is to take Pascal’s wager, whether it applies to the existence of God in general or the advisability of practicing Christian stewardship in particular. Our human intuition does everything it can to convince us that stewardship is a folly, an unacceptable risk. Why give up expensive vacations, or drive a more modest car, or live in a smaller home, or eat more simply, just so we can make that ten percent tithe to the church? Why give without strings attached, when we could put conditions on our contributions and at least maintain some control over how it is spent? Stewardship may be good theology, tithing may be thoroughly biblical, but from a modern practical point of view, they seem quaint—noble and high-minded, perhaps, but foolish. Why prop up an institution like the Church, which, on its best days may be inefficient, and on its worst days may be corrupt, and which delivers only an intangible benefit, nothing that can be measured and reported?

So, in an attempt to minimize the unacceptable risk of real stewardship, in an attempt to maintain some control over what we still—knuckleheads that we are—think of as “our” money, we employ strategies like giving only what we’re “comfortable” with. There are many church members who, if they totaled up their expenditures at the end of the year, and compared their giving to the Lord with the tips they leave for servers at restaurants, would see very comparable figures. What does it say about our attitude toward God, what does it say about our attitude toward the Church, the Body of his Son, when we, albeit unconsciously, think of him as someone deserving of a nice tip?

The attitude our Lord encourages us to have is not one of maintaining control, but letting go of control. This is represented for us in the familiar parable from Matthew’s gospel about the “talents.” A talent was originally a unit of currency, but, through this parable, which is a stewardship parable par excellence, it has come to mean anything in our possession that is purely a gift from God, unearned and unmerited. Three servants are entrusted with three different amounts of money while their master leaves town for a while. Two of them had the attitude of stewards, and realized that they would be expected to put those assets to active use, even if it meant taking a few risks. The third one, out of sheer laziness and fear, simply buried the money and figured his master would be happy just to receive it back intact when he returned.

He was wrong, as the end of the story demonstrates. The servants who doubled their master’s money while he was away were rewarded, I think, as much for their willingness to take a risk as for the results they achieved. Stewardship is indeed a gamble. It involves engaging in risky behavior, behavior that may not seem prudent or wise by the standards of this world. But when you weigh the odds, and consider the consequences, it’s a risk worth taking. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place you bets.
Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the 10am Diocesan Council Mass; greeting Council members as they arrived.
  • Presided and preached at the liturgy, observing the lesser feast of St Hugh of Lincoln.
  • Presided over the Council meeting, which was brief, but productive in the ways it needed to be.
  • Met privately for about 20 minutes with a clerical member of Council over a pastoral issue.
  • Met privately with a lay member of Council for about the same length of time over a concern in his parish.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Pointed the YFNBmobile westward toward Hannibal, MO, about a hundred miles away, to make a guest appearance at the 178th annual convention of the Diocese of Missouri.
  • Participated, but only as "eye candy," in the convention Eucharist, followed by dinner in the same venue. Along the way, we were entertained by Hannibal's most famous fictional denizens, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday (St Margaret)

  • Accompanied Brenda to a 9am dental appointment that turned out to be slightly more complicated than we had envisioned, but all turned out well.
  • Dropped Brenda at home and was only slightly late for my 11am appointment with Fr Mark Evans and one of his parishioners who believes he may have a vocation to the priesthood.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Replied to an email (in Spanish) from a priest in our companion diocese of Peru.
  • Walked less than a block south on Second Street for a get-acquainted meeting with a professional financial advisor. Retirement for me is not imminent, but simple math reveals that it's no longer far enough away to be an abstraction. It's time to start getting a few ducks in a row.
  • Re-engaged with my sermon-in-progress for Advent III and brought it from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Attended to some potential business for *next* year's synod via a substantive email.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed accumulated hard copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt by email with a bit of administrative detritus pertaining to the diocesan Camp Board.
  • Designed, printed, and sealed a certificate of appreciation for a parish musician in the diocese who has recently celebrated three decades in that ministry.
  • Spoke by phone at substantial length with one of our clergy over some pastoral concerns.
  • Made a visit to Illinois National Bank to (once again) get them to de-link the diocesan checking account from my personal online account access. Not only does is create the opportunity for misbehavior, should I undergo a sudden personality change, but it gives me heart palpitations when I see large checks than I know nothing about show up mixed in with all my trips to Taco Gringo and Schnucks.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took care of a bit of administrivia pertaining to helping one of our Eucharistic Communities with its fall stewardship campaign.
  • Wrestled once again seriously and long with the readings for III Advent, and finally managed to wrangle out a homiletical message statement. This is in preparation for preaching at St Luke's, Springfield on December 17.
  • Re-engaged with Gnosis, which I will yet fully master, and successfully launched an email blast to the geographically resident clergy of the diocese. Worked with Paige on some wrinkles getting this done.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday (Consecration of Samuel Seabury)

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon over some ongoing matters.
  • Took a pastoral-care phone call from one of our clergy.
  • Drove further downtown to meet with an attorney regarding some personal estate planning.
  • Did some routine personal organization maintenance--properly filing items cluttering my computer desktop.
  • Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at home.
  • Did a little bit of General Convention-related business.
  • Got to work on refining and printing the working script of my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana), which task was paused and resumed following a conversation with one of our priests about an ongoing pastoral project.
  • Hit the road northbound late in the afternoon toward Normal. Evening Prayer along the way. Enjoyed dinner and Christ the King with a sizeable portion of their membership. We discussed in a very detailed, sometimes rather raw, fashion the evolving protocols for establishing a geographic Parish of McLean County with St Matthew's. This is emotionally laborious, but well worth the expenditure if it yields the fruit I hope it does. Home around 10.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXIV Pentecost)

On the road right around 8:00, headed eastward toward the regular 10:00 liturgy at Trinity, Mattoon, which seems to be a happy Eucharistic Community under the pastoral leadership of Fr Jeff Kozuszek. We enjoyed a hearty potluck luncheon, then drove back through the rain to Springfield, arriving home a little past 1:30. Travel conditions were dreary, but I'll certainly take the rain over the snow that's been falling further north.

Sermon for Proper 27

Trinity, Mattoon--Matthew 25:1-13

At my age and stage of life, there is certainly plenty that I might complain about if I were the complaining sort. My body certainly calls attention to itself way more than it did twenty or thirty or forty years ago. I spend a lot more time in the waiting rooms of medical facilities now than I did then. But there a lot of things about life in my twenties and thirties that I would certainly not want to go back to. One of these is that the car I drive starts every time I push the start button and I’m virtually 100% confident that it won’t leave me stranded on the side of the road somewhere. That was not my experience in my young adulthood. Car trouble was just a fact of life. Now, part of this, I think, is just that they’re building a lot more quality into automobiles these days than they did then. But the other part is that I’m now blessed with the financial resources to religiously follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about scheduled maintenance. Nowadays, I actually get an email from my car telling me it’s time to take it into the dealer and have them do their thing—stuff that needs to be done not because there’s a present emergency, but, rather, in anticipation of a future emergency. The old saying, “a stitch in time saves nine” applies here. It’s not glamorous, it’s not fun, and it’s never urgent. It can always wait till “tomorrow.” But if we’re smart, we just do it, because we know that, over the long haul, it will cost us less time and less money to take care of things before they become problems rather than waiting until they become crises.

As we slide toward the season of Advent, which begins December 3, three weeks from today, the appointed scripture readings for the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays focus on one of the principal themes of Advent: preparation for the second coming of Christ and the Last Judgement. Today we have this parable from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel about the wise and foolish virgins, or bridesmaids, depending on your translation. We don’t really know very much about wedding customs in Palestinian Jewish culture in the first century, so it’s difficult to make sense of all the details in this parable. Why were these young ladies waiting for the bridegroom—shouldn’t they have been attending to the bride? Why was the bridegroom so long delayed? Would they really have had a wedding in the wee hours of the morning, just after midnight? Wouldn’t it have been a nice thing for the bridesmaids who had enough oil to share with those who didn’t? Would the bridegroom really have been so cruel as to deny the “foolish virgins” entrance to the wedding banquet just because they were a few minutes late? These and other questions might be interesting to bat around, but they’re ultimately unanswerable, which is really alright, because they have very little to do with the fundamental point of the story.

Five of these young ladies did their scheduled maintenance, and five did not. If the bridegroom had arrived on time, if everything had gone as expected, no one would have gotten into trouble. Everyone would have had enough oil for her lamp. The foolish maidens gambled on the probability that nothing would go wrong, and decided not to take the time and trouble to fill their lamps with oil. “I’ve got enough for tonight,” they said, “I can buy more during the day tomorrow.” For us, it might be like deciding not to take the time and trouble to make sure there’s adequate antifreeze in our cars at this time of year, gambling that there will be another mild winter.

The five wise maidens, however, took the precaution of making sure they had more than enough lamp oil to satisfy the expected demand. They were prepared for a contingency, for an emergency, for a crisis. When the bridegroom was late, it was a crisis for their foolish sisters, but not for them. They took care of routine maintenance, and they were ready for adversity when it hit.

It’s a great thing for us to take care of our homes and our cars and our bodies, not only when they obviously need work, but with preventive maintenance. It’s just good Christian stewardship of the assets that have been entrusted to us. But let us not forget that routine maintenance of the soul is also a good thing, and the reasons are all the same. It’s easier to prevent a spiritual crisis than to fix one. Now, spiritual crises can be fixed; there is a road out. So, if you happen to be in a crisis of the soul today, don’t lose hope. By all means, talk to Fr Jeff, or to me, or to some other Christian who is wise and experienced. But finding that road out is neither easy nor fun.

What do I mean by “spiritual crisis?” A spiritual crisis is when the normal or abnormal stresses of life cause us to lose our grip on what is ultimately important, what is really real. We feel as though God does not exist, or, if he does, is certainly not personally interested in us. Or we’re angry at him for allowing bad things to happen to us or to people whom we love, or are otherwise not deserving of such bad things happening to them. We get jaded, cynical, bitter. We become apathetic toward the development of our own character. We rationalize sinful and self-destructive behavior. If left unchecked, this condition becomes chronic, progressive, and fatal. We become detached from the love of the One who made us, and we end up, put simply, in hell—hell on earth, at first, and then hell eternally. The Second Coming of Christ, which this time in the liturgical year puts us in mind of, will certainly be a spiritual crisis for those who are unprepared.

The fact is, my friends, adversity will happen. It’s a given in human experience. Our capacity to be “faith-ful,” to remain oriented toward Christ, centered and grounded in him, will be tested and taxed. We don’t know when those moments are going to happen; they can come suddenly. Do you have enough oil in your lamp? Are you taking the time for scheduled and routine maintenance of the soul? Obviously, if you’re in this place at this time to hear me ask that question, the answer is, at least partially, Yes. You’ve probably heard me or other priests say this many times before, but attendance every week at the Sunday Eucharist, and making your communion, is the life blood of caring for the Christian soul. There is nothing more basic and fundamental than that, and it is virtually a waste of energy to be working on more sophisticated forms of spiritual practice when that elementary one has not been mastered. It’s like doing calculus when you haven’t learned algebra. It’s like fiddling with the centerpiece on your dining room table when you never manage to get the dishes washed. It’s putting the cart before the horse. When you reach the point that coming to Mass on Sunday is a habit—a habit of the heart as well as of the will—and not a weekly decision, you will have crossed a highly significant spiritual threshold. There are a lot of really good reasons for not coming to church on any given Sunday. I rarely ever hear a bad reason. It’s not bad things that keep us away from worship; it’s good things. But on the Lord’s Day, corporate worship is, as Jesus says, the “one thing needful.” I don’t want to drive this point into the ground; I realize I’m preaching to the choir. But I cannot find words adequate to convey how absolutely important this is.

Routine maintenance of the Christian soul also includes daily private prayer. It’s not as important what or how you pray as that you do it daily, whether you feel like it or not. When I’m working with someone on developing a life of prayer, they sometimes reach a point when they tell me, with some alarm, that daily prayer has become dry and boring. I smile inside when I hear this, because it is a sign of great spiritual growth. It is in the boredom of habit that the deeper things of the Lord can be communicated.

There are, of course, other expressions of spiritual health—acts of charity and service, good stewardship, the development of Christian character and the fruits of the spirit—but these are, as I said, expressions, manifestations. They are the results of routine spiritual maintenance, scheduled care of the soul rooted in Sunday corporate worship and daily personal prayer. With our lamps full of oil, then, we can face adversity without it becoming a spiritual crisis. We can weather the storm, secure in our faith, confident that, though it is often not God’s way to save us from such storms, it is most assuredly his way to be with us in and through them. Taking care of our souls through proper spiritual “diet and exercise” keeps us out of the spiritual emergency room.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday

Took some personal time the last couple of days, centered on attending an opera in Chicago, with train rides to and from, and some quality time with two of our children and those connected to them.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday

  • Task planning at home.
  • Kept an 8:30 phone date with a couple of lay leaders from one of our parishes.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with Paige on an ongoing video project that we're working on ... along with a couple of smaller items.
  • Refined and printed the script for this Sunday's homily (Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Took care of a relatively small but important admin chore related to Gnosis (our still-underutilized database program).
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Drilled more deeply into using Gnosis as a registration tool for diocesan events. Created several follow-up tasks. Several trips to Paige's office to chase down technological gremlins.
  • Began the process of planning another visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Tabora, sometime in 2018. Emails sent and responded to, tasks created.
  • Early-ish Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday

We concluded what some accounted "the best clergy conference ever" with lunch. I drove our two presenters to the airport in St Louis, and then headed home. Aside from dealing with a few emails, I've used these hours as downtime. Back in the office tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday (St Willibrord)

This was the one full day of the fall clergy conference of the diocese, held at Toddhall Retreat Center in Columbia (IL). Tom Bair and Bishop Gerry Wolf continue to provide stimulating content. We conclude midday tomorrow.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday (William Temple)

Up, organized, packed, and out of the house around 10:45. Brief errand at the office before heading south to the airport in St Louis. Retrieved our clergy conference presenters--actor Tom Bair and his wife, Bishop Gerry Wolf--and brought them to Toddhall. Got everybody oriented and settled. Evening Prayer, dinner, and then Tom's rather stunning one-man show, narrating the entire gospel of Mark in just ove two hours, with a 15 minute intermission. It is amazing to engage scripture in that way, rather than the piecemeal fashion we usually do.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Lord's Day (All Saints' observed)

If there's a good time to schedule a 6:15am departure from home, it's on the morning of the fall time change. That diminished the trauma of having to show up at St Andrew's, Edwardsville in time to preside and preach at their regular 8am celebration of the Eucharist. Between services, I had some valuable catechetical time with a rather large group of baptizands and confirmands and their coterie. At the 10:00 liturgy, we baptized one infant and one eight-year old, confirmed four adults (mostly young) and received four adults. What a harvest! After the coffee hour reception, I spent some time with members of the Mission Leadership Team and the Search Committee (priest-in-charge Fr Ralph McMichael is retiring soon after the turn of the new year). Home at 2:45.

Sermon for All Saints

St Andrew's, Edwardsville

I’ve always been particularly fond of the opening words of the Prayer Book collect for All Saints’ Day: “O God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord…” Knit together. It’s such a homely image; “homely” in a good way—comforting, familiar, “warm and fuzzy.” I don’t myself knit—hopefully you don’t find that too much of a shock!—but I’ve watched people knit—well, not “watched” actually, but been casually in their presence while they’re knitting—and I’ve always found the process rather amazing, almost magical. There’s a skein of yarn on the floor, with a line leading up to a person sitting in a chair wielding a pair of needles, usually looking quite relaxed and contented and able to carry on a more-than-decent conversation and possibly even follow the plot of a TV show at the same time. And then, pretty soon, I’m looking at a pair of baby booties, or a sweater, or a shawl, or some other product that has been “knit together.” It’s something tangible and coherent and useful. A ball of yarn is just a ball of yarn, but a sweater is … something.

So, according to the Prayer Book at least, God knits. God has knit together his elect, his chosen ones—and that would presumably include you and me—God has knit us together—we who are just a ball of yarn on the floor—God has knit us together in “one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [his] Son Christ our Lord.” It’s important to keep two things firmly in mind here: First, the “one communion and fellowship” into which God has knit us includes both those whom we would call “living” and those whom we would call “dead.” The line in the creed about the “communion of saints” means, among other things, that the membrane separating this world from the world to come is an awfully thin one. Second, the phrase “mystical body” is biblical and theological code language for the Church. Through the waters of baptism, we, the living and the dead, have been knit together in the fellowship of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

I take the trouble to remind us of these facts because it is of the nature of our actual human experience in actual human life to make us forget them. Instead of feeling like we’ve been knit together into anything, we’re more likely to feel like we’re unraveling. Unexpected misfortune happens—our favorite restaurant or store closes, our favorite team loses, the elections don’t go the way we think they should, the stock market tanks, the real estate market capsizes, seniors are forced to choose between the medicine they need and the food they need, we get an acid stomach when the first news we hear in the morning is something the President tweeted, or another episode of mass violence. The people in our life, from restaurant servers to spouses, let us down and fail to be what we need them to be. Too often, the people we need the most abandon us twice—first in their living and then in their dying. We experience loneliness and isolation and quiet desperation in abundance as we negotiate the hazards of life in this “broken and sinful world.”

In the end, we become depressed and cynical en route to terminal despair. This is the default condition of our society, my friends, and I’m not just talking about those who are on the margins—the poor, the homeless, those whose lives have been trashed by addiction. I’m talking about people who hold respectable jobs and live in respectable neighborhoods and who give every appearance of having their act together, of being on top of their lives. If nearly three decades of pastoral ministry have taught me anything, it’s to not automatically trust the fa├žade. I’ve seen behind it too many times. Americans are endemically lonely. And it’s no wonder; we are the descendants of people who made some very risky individual decisions, leaving countries where their ancestors had lived for generations and heading into uncharted territory. Without a strong sense of individualism, they would never have made it. But there’s a cost. They passed on their individualistic DNA to us, and we’re lonely. Medieval Europeans knew something about being “knit together.” Theirs was a communitarian society, and, in many ways, it was a more natural fit with the Christian notion of being “knit together in one communion and fellowship” than ours is. So we’re lonely. And over the last decade or so, as we’ve become virtually glued to a virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else these is out there, that loneliness is only compounded. Loneliness, then, leads to cynicism, and cynicism leads to desperation and despair, and desperation and despair lead to violence and all sorts of other mayhem. So much of the world’s suffering is the result of violence, and so much violence is the result of desperation, and so much desperation flows from cynicism that is rooted in loneliness, a sense of being disconnected, unraveled, no longer knit together, no longer knit together in one anything, let alone one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we come back to the objective fact of our baptism, which on this feast day is a tangible sign of our connection, our being a part of something—not a skein of yarn on the floor, but a sweater, or a shawl, or at least a pair of baby booties. We have been knit together—knit together with Christ, and knit together with one another. We have been knit together with the communion of saints, the assembly of God’s holy ones, gathered around the heavenly throne waiving palm branches and wearing white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. We are no longer lonely, because we are connected to the mystical body of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Church—the Church Militant feebly struggling on earth, the Church Expectant being led from glory to glory in Paradise, and the Church Triumphant in Heaven, those whose heroic witness to Christ we especially honor today. We are no longer lonely because we have been knit together into a fellowship of love and prayer. People may let us down, but we have been knit into Christ. Troubles may multiply, but we have been knit into Christ. We are part of the one communion and fellowship of all the saints, a fellowship of love and prayer that forms a support system in this world and a celestial cheering section in the next. This provides us with abundant hope in this world and unending joy in the world to come. 

All saints, all holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday (Richard Hooker)

  • Task planning and some internet reading at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made some refinements in the script for a video we plan to record in the afternoon, #2 in the Seven Marks of Discipleship series.
  • First get-acquainted meeting with someone seeking to test a vocation to ordination.
  • Continued work on guiding Christ the King, Normal and St Matthew's, Bloomington toward the formal creation of a geographic Parish of McLean County. The devil is always in the details.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • One of the advantages of now having a Communications Coordinator is that I can up my game with respect to the kind of catechetical videos that I've made paltry attempts at over the years. So I spent time with Paige shooting the next in the "Seven Marks of Discipleship" series. Look for a link soon.
  • Too an hour to attend to some personal business.
  • Friday Prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday (All Souls)

  • Task planning at home, tough I got a bit of a late start out of the house.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Tried to handle a sudden flurry of emails on the fly.
  • Attended and participated in the semi-annual meeting of the Diocesan Trustees, who oversee our invested funds. We met with our investment advisor from St Louis.
  • Met with Fr Gene Stormer, a retired priest of the diocese who has done truckloads of supply, interim, and short-term work for us over the decades. He's recently been Sunday supply at Christ the King, Normal, and we discussed some of the issues in the community.
  • Met briefly with the Chancellor over a couple of emerging concerns.
  • Attended the 12:15 Mass for All Souls Day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Tied up a loose end with one of our Rectors, by email.
  • Processed some more late-arriving email.
  • Spent substantial exegetical time with the propers for Advent III, when I will preach at St Luke's, Springfield on December 17.
  • Did a bit of physical desktop cleanup and conferred with the Archdeacon on ongoing administrative and pastoral concerns.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Saints

  • Usual weekday morning routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday cathedral liturgy.
  • Dealt by email and phone with a substantial administrative issue.
  • Deconstructed and reconstructed a sermon text for Proper 27 from 1996, repurposing it for use at Trinity, Mattoon on the 12th.
  • Attended by email to a relatively small administrative leadership matter.
  • Took a phone call from Fr McMichael to talk through some of the choreography for this Sunday's liturgies at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Substantive meeting with Rod Matthews, here for some Treasurer work, but, in our conversation, wearing his senior warden of Christ the King, Normal hat.
  • Returned a phone call to a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Presided and preached at the cathedral Mass for All Saints' Day.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Attended to some work pertaining to two individuals who are ordained in other churches but who wish to serve as priests in the Episcopal Church. This is invariably a complicated process, requiring a lot of attention to detail.
  • Scanned what felt like a truckload of hard copy materials.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.