Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday (St Anselm)

What does it say about me that I consider it a "good day" when I don't even leave the house? Didn't even put on a pair of proper shoes, or start the car. That doesn't mean I was idle, though. The accomplishment of the morning was a long and vigorous treadmill workout. The afternoon saw progress on planning for the Bishop of Tabora's visit, the November clergy conference, preparation for committee work at General Convention, and a major email communication to diocesan clergy.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took a first long prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 4, in anticipation of preaching at Alton Parish on June 3.
  • Further developed and refined the script for my next "Seven Marks" catechetical video.
  • Got to work scanning, categorizing, and tagging a formidable pule of hard copy items.  Reinforced in the conviction that the staple is the primary enemy of the digital revolution.
  • Had a 90 minute meeting in connection with the "ongoing pastoral-administrative matter" that I've been mentioning so much lately. Happily--and may it please God, permanently--this meeting represents, at last, the resolution of the issue.
  • Somewhat late lunch of leftovers at home.
  • Dug back in on the scanning project, taking time away sporadically to send some emails pertaining to the subject of the pre-lunch meeting.
  • Opened the homiletical file (prayer, slow reading of the propers, initial note-taking) on Proper 6 (June 10 at St Michael's, O'Fallon).
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday (St Alphege)

  • Vigorous treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • The only planned-task-checked-off "accomplishment" for the day was a deep dive into three exegetical commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles. This was in preparation for preaching at Emmanuel, Champaign on Pentecost.
  • While in the process of doing this, I kept an appointment with my psychotherapist, met by phone with two individuals in connection with an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter, and had a substantive phone conversation laying plans for the visit to the diocese in June of the Bishop of Tabora and his wife.
  • Short-form Evening Prayer on the way home. (It was late.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday

  • Task planning and home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent a chunk of time getting up to speed on recent developments in an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Gathered at 0945 with the Administrator and the Archdeacon for our annual "elections and appointments" meeting. This is part of the runup to the 2018 Synod (which is, yes, still five months away, but ... you know ... time flies). This is make sure that, if it's my duty to appoint someone to an office at Synod, I'm ready to do so, and that, for offices that are elected, we have at least one person willing to run.
  • Responded to a short stack of emails.
  • Began reading and digesting a report from someone whom I asked to develop a plan for online registration and payment for diocesan events. This has been an ongoing tough nut to crack. 
  • Broke for lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • While still at home, responded in detail to the report I had begun reading in the morning.
  • Took Brenda to an dental appointment.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon "wresting" a fully-developed sermon outline for VI Easter (St John the Divine, Champaign) from the message statement I gave birth to last week. Preaching on a text from I John, which is unusual for me, as I tend to find the "Johannine" literature obtuse and difficult.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday

  • My smart phone woke up dead ... well, you know ... at least in a coma. So, Morning Prayer at home, and first in line at the AT&T store right when it opened. Some guy several decades younger than I am had it up and running in a couple of minutes. I think the technical term was "frozen."
  • When I got to the office, it seemed like there was just one minor distraction after another--little emergencies that kept popping up. Finally, a good while after 10, I was able to focus on my homily for Easter V (April 29 at Trinity, Mt Vernon). I reconditioned a text from a prior year and will refine it further next week.
  • Took further steps toward convening a task force to study clergy compensation and help develop some coherent guidelines.
  • Started a game of email tag with one of our clergy over an issue of mutual interest. (And, in this context, got into the technology weeds with my email client, which was misbehaving.)
  • With Paige's help, dusted off my very old Spotify account, and got reacquainted with it, all toward the end of supplying her with some musical background material for a video montage she's working on about Holy Week and Easter at the cathedral.
  • Lunch from a new place, a chicken wings joint on Wabash the name of which I now forget, eaten at home.
  • Back to Spotify, discovering that, while I *thought* I knew how to add a song to a playlist, I in fact did not. Corrective measures were enacted.
  • Ordered a new batch of starched cotton clergy collars.
  • Sent out an email memo to the staff over an issue of administrative policy (requesting that the diocesan logo appear as part of the signature in all outgoing emails from diocesan accounts).
  • Substantial phone check-in with Fr Newago, the Mission Strategy Developer for the three northern deaneries. His ministry seems to be proceeding apace.
  • Without feeling like there was much to show for the afternoon, it was gone. Emblematic of the day, in which it just felt hard to get traction.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

Out the door with Brenda at 7am, headed south and east. Arrived two hours later at St Thomas', Salem, for my regular annual visitation. Presided and preached at their 0930 celebration fo the Eucharist. Enjoyed their usual culinary hospitality afterward. Back on the road at 12:3o and home two hours later. 

Sermon for III Easter

St Thomas', Salem--Luke 24:36b-48

Let’s look at ourselves. Let’s look at ourselves—who we are and what we’re doing, right now in this moment, and every Sunday at this time. Each one of us has a particular and personal reason for being here. And I suspect that if we were to distribute colored markers to everyone and write these reasons down on newsprint and tack all the sheets along the wall, we would discover that we have a great deal in common about why we’re here. We would see themes like a desire to worship God, a search for some measure of comfort and solace in the ups and downs of life, or an urge to express our faith. And if we’re brutally honest, some of us would say that we’re here just out of habit, or because we’re superstitiously afraid that God will “smite” us if we stay home, and perhaps some are here just out of curiosity about one thing or another. And, from one Sunday to the next, the reasons might vary.

But who are we as we’re gathered here, doing something that, if the people driving by were to stop in and have a look, they would consider at least a little bit odd, a little bit strange, we are quite an assortment, even in this relatively small congregation. Some among us are seriously ill, and some relatively well. Some are quite anxious and others less anxious—I doubt anyone is completely free of anxiety. Some are mentally foggy and some are mentally clear. Some struggle with doubts and fears and confusion about their faith, insecure in their relationship with Christ, while some, most likely, have a well-grounded and lively faith. Even those with a secure and lively faith, though, sometimes experience uneasiness over loose ends, unanswered questions, a sense of not quite having wrapped their minds completely around some aspect or another of the Christian faith. The fact that they’re here is, in part, a testimony to that experience.

In general, we’re probably in better shape than the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus on the afternoon of the first Easter day as they gathered in a room, away from the gaze of both the Jewish and Roman authorities, of whom they were understandably afraid—gathered to take stock of their situation. There was a great deal of doubt, fear, confusion, and anxiety in that room. It probably differed in degree from one to another, but they all participated in some measure of it.

What’s really interesting now, is that the shape of our liturgy—what we’re actually here to actually do this morning—mirrors this experience. We arrive in this church with all of our anxiety, all of our fear, and all of our confusion, along with all of our faithful hope. Right away, we’re asked to sing a hymn that makes all sorts of theological claims and assertions, some of which we might be clear on and some of which we might have no clue about, but we still—most of us, at any rate—we still sing. Then our minds are assaulted by four consecutive passages of scripture—centuries-old literary texts, originally written in ancient languages and in cultural contexts that are very different than our own—and we’re expected to hear and somehow digest and make some sense of these readings. It’s not always easy. It’s almost never easy.

In the midst of the disciples’ confusion and anxiety in that room, then, Jesus shows up. His first word is Peace. Peace be with you. Shalom. Let anxiety and fear be banished. Jesus provides rational reasons to have faith and hope. “Here, touch me, I’m not a ghost.” He then proceeds to “open their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and says to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

In our liturgy—I say humbly and with trepidation—in our liturgy, this is parallel to the sermon. It is the sacred task of the preacher, at every celebration of the Eucharist, to “break open” the opaque and confusing scripture readings, to open the minds of the baptized faithful, to connect the dots between the readings and our creedal faith, and between our creedal faith and our daily lives. It is the job of the preacher to be Jesus in that moment and say “Peace be with you. Fear not.”

Jesus does one other significant thing in this marvelous narrative: He eats with his disciples. He asks them if they have any food and they give him a piece of broiled fish, and he consumes it. Now, I want you to think of another familiar gospel story, because there’s a fruitful parallel here. You probably recall the two hikers—Cleopas and his unnamed companion—making their way from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. We can see the same pattern there: First there’s confusion and anxiety. Then minds are opened to connect the dots. Light bulbs go on. Then, there’s the sharing of a meal, and suddenly, in that meal—recognition. The one who was a mysterious stranger is seen to be a familiar and beloved friend. It happened to Cleopas and his companion then, and now it happens to the Eleven disciples. They fully recognize Jesus precisely as they share a meal with him.

Do I need to spell this out for you? We have assembled with our doubts and hears. We have heard the words of scripture, but with partially darkened minds. The unworthy servant of Christ has attempted—and is indeed in this very moment attempting—to break the scriptures open and shine a light into those darkened minds, to connect the dots. And now we are about to share a meal, wherein we offer God our fear, our anxiety, and our confusion, and God responds by returning the gifts of bread and wine transformed into the very life of the risen Christ, the very life of God. We will once again see and recognize the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.

Because we’re a little dense, and because God is so merciful, we get to do this Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, holy day by holy day. One day we will “get it” completely and permanently, we will no longer see through the glass dimly, but will sing the eternal hymn that we will know all the words to, and understand their meaning, and lay aside all anxiety, fear, and confusion forever. Peace be with you. Fear not. Christ is risen. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday

Uneventful day of travel. Everything went as it should, despite some jitters last night about Chicago weather today. Arrived home around 5:45, glad to be back from wind-swept Oklahoma.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday

Attended the morning and afternoon session of the Board of Directors of the Living Church Foundation, in my new role meeting as Secretary. I have a somewhat minimalist approach to the job, which makes it not very onerous. This took place at All Souls Church, Oklahoma City. After a bit of down time back at the Hilton Garden, I attended a reception for local "friends" of (and, we hope, potential donors to) TLC, held in the parish hall of All Souls. Then it was off to dinner with board members at a lovely local restaurant.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday (George Selwyn)

Mostly a day of travel. Caught the 9:23 United departure to O'Hare, then, after some time with emails and phone calls in the United Club, the 12:52 departure to Oklahoma City. I'm here for a semi-annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the Living Church Foundation. Picked up my rental car and found my way to my hotel without a hitch. Enjoyed dinner in the home of one of our board members and his wife; a lovely and gracious time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday (William Law)

  • Morning Prayer at home (waiting for a window blind installer).
  • Pastoral care by email: Responded to some questions from a layperson about the issues General Convention is facing.
  • Spent some time on the phone with Illinois National Bank (home of both personal and diocesan accounts) trying to straighten out some technology glitches.
  • While the blinds installer words, I refined, edited, posted, and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Thomas's, Salem).
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Traded emails with a priest about an upcoming visitation to his parish.
  • Traded emails with the Bishop of Tabora regarding his upcoming visit to the diocese.
  • Sat attentively with my exegetical notes on the readings for Easter VI (when I will be at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign) and emerged with a homiletical message statement from which a sermon will hopefully be developed.
  • Took a phone call from a priest. Followed up with a conversation with the Archdeacon.
  • Caught up with a couple emails from laypeople about parish administrative issues.
  • Took an initial prayerful pass at the readings for Pentecost, when I will be preaching at Emmanuel, Champaign as part of the centennial celebration of their architecturally significant church building.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Easter Friday

After Morning Prayer in the cathedral, the rest of the time before lunch got consumed by my homily for Easter III, which I brought from "developed outline" to "rough draft." Since Paige and I were the only ones in the office, we gave one another the afternoon off  (she reminding me, "You're the boss"). I did, however, work from home until about 4:00, attending to some Forward Movement business and moved the ball down the road toward assembling a team to examine clergy compensation in the diocese. Brenda and I then packed for two nights and pointed the YFNBmobile north toward Chicago. I don't have a visitation this weekend, and Brenda has a doctor's appointment there (*here* as I write) tomorrow, so we're taking the opportunity for some family time.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Easter Thursday

Another day of time-consuming projects. The morning and the first part of the afternoon was devoted to plotting my sermon prep work for the summer (June through the first two Sundays in September). This involved a spreadsheet, and a dive into sermon archives to see what could be repurposed and what needs to be prepared from scratch. The "from scratch" determination turned out to be a majority this time. Then I assigned the steps of my OCD six-step sermon development process to appropriate dates, navigating around vacation and travel commitments. I know I have colleagues who start thinking about their sermon on Saturday afternoon. I can't live that way. 

The rest of the afternoon was largely dedicated to drafting the script of next installment in my "marks of discipleship" catechetical video series. This one is about the development of spiritual practices. Interspersed throughout the day were emails concerning a family real estate transaction in Chicago--a new home for two of my children, and an eventual retirement landing spot for Brenda and me when the time comes. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter Wednesday

Yesterday was a day of getting a large number of relatively small items checked off, not requiring much brain power. Today was the opposite: Only two items accomplished, both required lots of mental energy. The morning was largely devoted to hanging out with commentaries on the First Epistle of John, focusing on the first few verses of Chapter 5. This was in preparation for preaching (at the Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign) on Easter VI. It actually felt like a guilty pleasure. I enjoy deep dives into biblical texts, and when the task of sermon preparation forces me to do that, it's a happy thing. Johannine material in general, and the epistles in particular, generally drive me a bit nuts, so this was especially good. The afternoon was mostly devoted to reading and annotating the revision of the Book of Occasional Services that will be presented fo General Convention in July. I'm on the committee that will be dealing with it (and probably amending it), so this was by way of due diligence. It contains the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of my discernment will be how to triage all the various things that ought to be fixed, figuring out what battles to actually engage and which to just take a chill pill about.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter Tuesday

  • Still just a bit still in Holy Week recovery mode. Slept in an extra 20 minutes or so. Robust treadmill workout. Weekly and daily task planning.
  • As it was already 10:30, short form Morning Prayer in the car on the way in to the office.
  • Two substantial phone conversation pertaining to an ongoing pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Took steps toward the rescheduling of a meeting in July. Evolving vacation travel plans have caused me to move the whole thing up by a day.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Dealt by email with about a dozen items that needed my attention, no one of which was particularly onerous, but in the aggregate consumed most of the afternoon. I kind of intentionally didn't schedule many mentally-intense tasks today, in the spirit of "easing back in."
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, about 30 minutes on the early side.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter

Yesterday's post kind of fell through the cracks. Maintaining a custom that is now nearly three decades old, I gathered with the cathedral Altar Guild at 0900 for the proper liturgy (of the word) for Holy Saturday. Spent most of the morning there preparing for the Vigil. Passed the afternoon with our visiting daughter and her family. 

Back to St Paul's around 7pm to get ready for the 8:00 Easter Vigil. We duly celebrated the resurrection, getting home a bit after 11. Unwound a bit and became unconscious around midnight. Back to the cathedral to preach at 0800, watch probably the coldest Easter egg hunt on record, then preside and preach at 1030. Lunch out with the fam, them home to collapse into a long-deferred nap.

Easter Homily

Springfield Cathedral


Apple unveils a new version of the iPhone, several different versions over the years, and each time the marketplace says, “Life as we know it will never be the same.” Physicians and scientists announce the discovery of HIV/AIDS back in the late ‘70s; journalists and social commentators intone the same refrain, “Life as we know it will never be the same.” A real estate tycoon and reality TV host gets elected President, and both his supporters and detractors say—“Life as we know it will never be the same.” The City of Springfield announces plans to change some one-way streets downtown back to two-way, and what do we say? “Life as we know it will never be the same.” As you can see, this figure of speech can have a wide range of meanings, from the trivial to the profound, from the planned to the accidental.

But what about “life as we know it?” Behind the hype and beyond the humor, what are the defining characteristics of human existence? Should we be afraid if life as we know it will never be the same, or should we be grateful if life as we know it will never be the same? There is certainly joy in human experience. There is beauty in human experience. There is laughter and there is love in human experience, as well as holiness and heroism and hope. At the same time, “life as we know it” is the venue for disease and disappointment, depression and despondency. Cancer and drunk driving and domestic violence and child abuse and mass shootings and terrorist attacks and racism and sexual exploitation and harassment all exist in life as we know it. In life as we know it, children are abused by people they trust, terrorists blow themselves up inside crowded hotel lobbies, the clouds dry up and the crops fail, and people go hungry, and tornadoes plow through trailer parks.

This is all what happens in life as we know it. So how do we balance the joy and the beauty and the love against the misery and ugliness and hatred? Can we assign some sort of relative point value? How many Mona Lisas or Beethoven symphonies or Tolstoy novels or family reunions does it take to balance off … say, the Holocaust? I don’t pretend to know, but it seems to me that one could make a case that Good and Evil play one another to a draw, that there is an essential parity between the two, that the positive things about being human will never be completely overshadowed by the negative. That may be true, but, I have to say, it’s cold comfort, because to say that Evil will never triumph over Good, that they have played each other to a stalemate, also means that Evil will always be with us, that disease and dysfunction will always be part of human experience, that suffering and death are permanent characteristics of the human condition.

It’s that last one, of course, that’s the clinker. Death is a trump card. Whatever beauty and joy there may be on the way, whatever love and kindness we may know en route, Death is waiting for us at the end of the journey—indeed, Death defines the end of the journey. This is surely the most enduring and most profound characteristic of life as we know it. It overshadows everything else.

And that’s why we have Easter. That’s why we’re here at this moment, doing what we’re doing. We are celebrating the ground, the basis, the essential foundation of all human hope, which is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead puts an end to “life as we know it.” Death is swallowed up in victory. Death no longer has the last word. Death no longer defines the end of the journey; it is transformed into the gateway of abundant and eternal life. Because of Easter, “life as we know it” will not only “never be the same,” it is no longer even recognizably itself. If we’re honest, we have to admit that’s a little bit of a scary thought. The landscape has changed; the old maps are no good anymore. Living on this side of the Resurrection, we face a future that is secure, but not entirely clear. We are citizens of a homeland we have never even seen. We get nervous without all the familiar landmarks and wonder whether a misery that is known might be preferable to a bliss that is unknown.

The fact is, though, we can’t ever go back. Good and Evil have not played themselves to a stalemate; Evil has been defeated. Worse still—from the standpoint of Evil—God has not only defeated Evil, he has enslaved it. In my bolder moments, I am tempted to say that God has redeemed Evil. God has reordered suffering and death toward his own purpose of life and joy. We say in our prayers that the cross—on which the Son of God bore the full weight of human suffering—we say that the “way of the cross” is “none other than the way of life and peace.” We also say that God has transformed “an instrument of shameful death into “the means of life.” Do you see the implications here?—How far-reaching they are?  If the death of the only fully innocent human being who has ever lived is transformed and redeemed by his resurrection, so are cancer and gun violence and wars and terrorist attacks. If the suffering of Good Friday is transformed and redeemed by the glory of Easter, so are poverty and divorce and racism and flat tires and bad hair days. Nothing escapes, nothing gets away. Everything is taken up into that victory.

The risen Christ, having put an end to life as we know it, now wants to introduce us to life as we have never known it, life as we have never imagined it. I can’t even describe it to you, because it’s “new every morning.” All I can say is that it’s a life of deep peace, even if there’s a great deal of turbulence on the surface. It’s a life grounded of unshakable love, even as it is lived in the midst of disappointment and betrayal. It is a life of profound wholeness, even as it is incarnate in the midst of extensive brokenness. It is a life of unquenchable hope in a sea of despair.

This life is ours. It is given to us in baptism. It is nourished over and over again in Holy Communion. It is imprinted on our souls through the concrete daily experiences of a life lived in faith. It is ample reason for unrestrained rejoicing. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • Took Brenda to yet another healthcare appointment.
  • Sent greetings via email to one of our priests who has to live this year with the cognitive dissonance of having his birthday fall on Good Friday. Of course, in as many years, if falls on Easter, most likely.
  • Spent an hour in prayer and reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar of Repose, and in the desolation of the nave and sanctuary of the cathedral.
  • Came home at lunchtime. Habits are hard to break on a fast day. Worked from there the rest of the day.
  • Opened a file on a sermon for Easter VI, April 29 at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. Took a first pass at the readings. Made some notes.
  • Took care of some routine time-of-the-month chores related to my calendar.
  • Responded to some late-arriving emails.
  • Greeted our younger daughter and her family, in for the weekend from the Twin Cities. They arrived hungry, so we took them to Popeye's for some chicken.
  • Headed off with Brenda to the cathedral for the solemn liturgy of Good Friday. I presided this time, while the Dean preached.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday

  • Customary Thursday early AM treadmill workout.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Polished, printed, and scheduled for posting my Easter homily.
  • Met with an individual in the discernment process for holy orders.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to a scheduled healthcare appointment.
  • Spent the balance of the afternoon on a pastoral/administrative matter that is inordinately complex, sensitive, and just plain difficult. Read, consulted, pondered, made notes. The issue is already bathed in prayer.
  • Ran home to retrieve Brenda and grab a quick bite at Tacos Pepe on Chatham (where Smashburger, of blessed memory, used to be).
  • Back to the cathedral to make last minute preparations for the beginning of the Triduum.
  • The Dean presided and I preached at the Proper Liturgy for Maundy Thursday: Washing of Feet. Mass of the Lord's Supper, Stripping of the Altar.

Maundy Thursday Homily

Springfield Cathedral
Human beings are prisoners of time. Speaking theologically, I’m not sure whether to attribute that to God’s intention in creation, or to our fall into sin. Whichever one it is, though, you and I cannot exist without reference to the past, the present, and the future. The mystery of time, this fundamental human experience, is something we can neither fully comprehend nor transcend. We don’t understand time, and we certainly can’t break free of it. Of course, this doesn’t keep us from fantasizing. Any new book that is well-written, any new movie that is well-made, and includes the theme of time-travel, is bound to be popular.

We also process the mystery of time in more subtle ways. This decade is, of course, fifty years after the 1960s. Every week, it seems, there’s some big fiftieth anniversary milestone. Only six days from now is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. In June, it will be the same thing for Bobby Kennedy. 1968 was a hugely significant year, and if you are a member of the Baby Boom generation, as I am, the 60s were when we came of age, when we found our footing in this world … or tried to. Now, if you’re a GenXer, there’s something for you as well: The Breakfast Club is 33 years old this year, twice the age of the kids who had to come to Saturday detention that day. Molly Ringwald turned 50 last month. All of this has the ability to evoke waves of nostalgia and wistful reflection about the mystery of past, present, and future, and our inability to break free of those categories.

We can’t break free, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. The most basic attempt at transcending time is through the mind. With memory, we can revisit the past, and because our memories are not perfect, we can sometimes even clean up annoying details that didn’t come out quite right the first time. And with imagination, we can journey to the future—or, at least, a future—and check out the possibilities. But memories fade, and imaginations fail, so we resort to written records—diaries and journals—as well as audio cassettes and photographs and home videos and the like. We also celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries of all sorts of events, both joyful and sorrowful. Perhaps the most serious attempt at transcending time is demonstrated by those Civil War re-enactments that take place on or near the sites of the original battlefields. I’ve never been to one of these events, but I’ve talked to people who have firsthand knowledge of them, and let me tell you, this is not a game! These people have an ability to stay “in character” even when they’re off the battlefield. It’s actually a little spooky. Only three years ago, Springfield re-enacted the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, and people from this cathedral congregation were involved with that project, although, as far as I know, everybody seems to have returned to their normal persona!

But, try as we might, even when we go to extraordinary lengths such as Civil War re-enactments, there remains a basic barrier that we simply cannot cross. We might be able to fool ourselves pretty convincingly, but we cannot actually transcend, we cannot break free of, the prison of time. We are captive to the moment, and irrevocably alienated from both the past and the future. And that’s why what we’re doing tonight, and tomorrow night, and the next night, is of such critical significance. In these strange activities known as the Paschal Triduum, we are transcending time; we are breaking free of the present and glimpsing Eternity. It might seem like we are merely trying to evoke mental images of certain historical events: the upper room tonight —with the washing of feet and the Last Supper—the Crucifixion tomorrow night, and the Resurrection on Saturday night. With some of what we do—actual feet getting actually wet tonight, kneeling at the foot of an actual cross tomorrow, keeping vigil in a dark and tomb-like silence on Saturday night—we may seem, I suppose, more akin to the Civil War re-enactors. But, in fact, we are doing much more than that. The power—indeed, the very nature—of liturgy and sacrament is to transcend time and space. Liturgy and sacrament set us free from our temporal prison and enable us to benefit from what Jesus did in that upper room just as much as the twelve apostles who were actually gathered there with him. The people who have their feet washed tonight are not being served by Dan Martins, as much as it may appear so; they are being served by Jesus the Son of God. When we celebrate the Eucharistic Banquet, the host will not be Andy Hook, as much as it may appear so; the host will be that same Jesus who took bread and wine and made them the vessels of his own life-giving self-offering.

We are not commemorating or re-enacting historical events; we are participating in a mystery. And the mystery in which we are participating is none other than the redemption of the universe —a universe that, most assuredly, includes each one of us. In word and water and moistened feet, in solemn prayer over broken bread and poured out wine, we are acquiring first-hand experience of the ferocious love of God, a love that will never let go of us. We are allowing ourselves to be conformed to the shape of the cross—being made one with Christ in his sufferings, that we may be made like him in his resurrection. We are sharing in the righting of that which is wrong, the re-membering of that which is dis-membered, the making whole of that which is torn apart.

For me, one of the most moving moments in the film The Passion of the Christ was when Jesus, bearing his heavy cross along the Way of Sorrows, catches sight of his mother. Their eyes meet, and he seems to be momentarily revived by a burst of energy. He says to her, “Look, Mother, I make all things new!” My beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, a movie scene like that can be very powerful, and call to our minds the enormous scale of the work that our Lord accomplished in his Passion. But it’s only a movie, and we can get no closer to it than our seat is from the screen. It is only in the solemn liturgy of the Paschal Triduum that we can walk through that movie screen and into the action and take our place alongside Jesus and Mary, and, indeed, alongside Simon of Cyrene as he participates with Jesus in bearing the cross that represents nothing other than the sum total of the sin of the world and the evil of the universe. Look! Jesus is making all things new. And we are there with him. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday in Holy Week

  • Morning Prayer at home, since I needed to hang around for an electrician to arrive and take care of a list of long-deferred issues.
  • (still from home) Worked on my sermon for Easter III (April 15 at St Thomas', Salem), taking it from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • (in the office now) Dealt by email with a matter pertaining to my membership on the board of the Society of King Charles the Martyr (and also with the fact that I am a bishop and therefore a member of General Convention and a member of the committee that will consider the inclusion of King Charles in the calendar of the Episcopal Church).
  • Stepped out for lunch downtown with my Roman Catholic counterpart, Thomas John Paprocki. It's always good when this sort of thing can happen.
  • Dealt with some technology issues. My email client started suddenly misbehaving. Reached out to tech support. Everything seems to be OK now.
  • Kept up a chain of email volleys with a young man who sought my help last week--out of the blue, I don't recall meeting him--who is struggling with issues of faith and doubt and his relationship with the church. I always feel it a privilege to be let into people's lives like this.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with April birthdays. (No weeding or ordination anniversaries in April, it appears.)
  • Substantive consultation with the Archdeacon regarding an ongoing pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my Maundy Thursday homily (tomorrow evening at the cathedral).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday in Holy Week

  • Weekly/daily task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Did just a little bit of desk-straightening; it's gotten rather out of hand.
  • Reviewed the mockup of the next issue of the Springfield Current. Made a small tweak.
  • Worked via email with the ad editor of The Living Church, coordinating some adjustments to the dioceses "sponor's column" in an upcoming issue.
  • Wrote an email to a lay communicant who had written me a rather detailed letter that I read last week.
  • Got to work on a long-term "archival" scanning project. (Not diocesan archives, per se, but personal papers related to my ministry.)
  • Attended the midday Mass for Tuesday in Holy Week in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch from HyVee (Chinese), eaten at hope.
  • Continued with the scanning project, finishing the chunk I had bitten off.
  • Performed major surgery on the text of an old Maundy Thursday homily. The illustrations from contemporary culture were no longer ... contemporary. Walked across the alley and talked it over with the Dean.
  • Did some reconstructive surgery on the liturgy program for the cathedral Easter Vigil, in view of the fact that we have no baptisms this year, but we do have confirmations and receptions.
  • Massaged a sermon text for Easter from a prior year for use this weekend. It didn't require "surgery," just some relatively minor tweaks.
  • Reviewed and approved a marital judgment petition. It was actually one of the most exemplary of the genre that I have ever seen.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

So begins my customary (and eighth) Holy Week at St Paul's Cathedral. I preached at 8:00 and 10:30, and presided as well at the later celebration. It was all done with elegance and grace, a good start to this most sacred of weeks.

Palm Sunday Homily

Springfield Cathedral--St Mark's Passion

When we read the Passion like this on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, it sometimes feel likes a sermon is superfluous, an anti-climax. Of course, it’s not, really; it’s not superfluous. It’s important that we break open and shine a light on what we’ve just done and set it in the larger context of everything that we’re going to be doing this week. Nonetheless, there is certainly a level at which the narrative of Jesus’ agony in the garden, his arrest, his two trials, his flogging, his crucifixion, and his death just speaks for itself.

About fifteen years ago there was a controversial movie made by Mel Gibson called The Passion of the Christ. Many people found it revolting, because the graphic detail in which Jesus’ suffering was depicted was monstrously gruesome. Many critics asked, “What’s the point? Why subject the viewer to such gore?” One response to that criticism is surely that the film didn’t depict anything that, according to whatever information we have, didn’t actually happen. If we sanitize it so as to make it less monstrous, is that not a dangerous form of denial? Indeed, what the passion narrative tells us, whether we read it in Mark’s gospel, or one of the other gospels, or see it on the big screen as interpreted by Mel Gibson, is that any level of evil that a human being can experience, Jesus experienced. Jesus took it all. Jesus bore it all. He has suffered the “nth degree” of what the human condition is capable of dishing out. Whatever dark territory our lives might lead us into, we will discover that Jesus is already there, waiting for us.

Sometimes our lives lead us into terrifying, paralyzing fear. Jesus has been there. When he’s alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, he is mortally afraid. He is agitated, worked up. The expression “sweating blood” comes from this very incident. He would very much like to find an exit strategy. He would love to hear God the Father’s voice, as he did at his baptism, as he did at his transfiguration—he would love to hear his Father’s voice say, “OK. I think I know another way to do this. Stand by for a change in plans,” and he would say, “Copy that,” and let out a sigh of relief. The only thing that kept Jesus focused and on task was his utter unity with the Father and the irrevocable commitment of God’s love to redeem all of humanity, indeed, all of creation, from being held hostage by the powers of sin and death.

Sometimes our lives lead us into the land of disappointment. People we trust let us down. People in whom we have seen great potential fail to live up to our expectations. This can be a family member, or a friend, a student or an employee, and it can certainly be a politician, a public leader. Well, Jesus knows that territory well. His own closest disciples, those whom he trusted the most—Peter, James, and John—let him down by falling asleep in his hour of greatest need. Only a few days earlier, Jesus had warned them in his long and dramatic discourse about trials and tribulations that lay ahead for his followers: “Stay awake!” And here they were, as it’s all coming to a head, sound asleep.

Sometimes our passionate hopes are dashed, and our most fervent prayers left apparently unanswered. Jesus knows that road as well. His prayer in the Garden is not a case of just going through the motions. It is deadly earnest. He is afraid and wants the Father to find another way, a Plan B, to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. But what does he hear back? Nothing. Crickets.

At times, our lives lead us into the heartbreak of betrayal. Someone to whom we are emotionally connected, someone to whom we have bared our soul, or our body, or both, someone to whom we have revealed our innermost selves, betrays that trust. It is the deepest kind of hurt, the most searing sort of mental and emotional pain that one human being can inflict on another. Jesus is familiar with that pain. First, Judas, one of the twelve who had been with Jesus for nearly his entire ministry, leaves the Last Supper early for the express purpose of making a deal with the Jewish authorities to sell him out, for thirty pieces of silver. Judas greets Jesus was a treacherous kiss when they come out to arrest him. Then, during Jesus’ first trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter, the first among the apostles, denies even knowing Jesus three times, in rapid succession. The only thing more shocking than Peter’s denial itself is the lightning speed at which he got to that place.

The most unfortunate among us—but, still, way too many people—the most unfortunate among us experience the terror of abandonment. Children are abandoned by their parents every day. Lesser known is the pain of parents being abandoned by their children, but it happens. Husbands leave their wives and wives their husbands. It is still an open wound among thousands of Episcopalians and former Episcopalians that people have abandoned their churches, and their churches have abandoned them. Jesus is familiar with the territory of abandonment. After his arrest, Mark’s gospel records what may be the most poignant words in all of holy scripture, indeed, in all of literature: “And they all forsook him and fled.” The only thing more heart-wrenching than those words is Jesus’ own cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus bears witness to being abandoned by God himself.

Again, way too many human beings find themselves faced with excruciating physical pain and humiliation. Injury and death from violence is a ubiquitous experience in many places in our world. Many diseases that eventually kill us subject us to a great deal of pain first. And even if we escape physical pain on our way out of this world, we are still vulnerable to the humiliation that rides on the coattails of our healthcare system. Crucifixion, you know, was engineered to be a method of torture, not mere execution. As a method of execution, it’s grossly inefficient. It’s a slow and painful death. But, for Jesus, there is mental and emotional torture as well. He is crowned with thorns and arrayed in a purple robe, and mocked by the Roman soldiers before they get around to nailing him to the cross. And they also strip him of his clothing, and thereby any shred of dignity. We portray Jesus in our crucifixes with a modest loincloth, but the truth is he was probably deprived of even that.

Then there’s death, the only experience that we all face, and that, when the time comes, we will face alone. Death is the sum of all fears, that from which all forms of sentient life instinctively recoil and will struggle to fend off with every ounce of available energy. And on that cross on which he was nailed, naked to the world and abandoned by God, Jesus breathed his last. He died. His brain was deprived of oxygen. The neurons quit firing. He was stone cold dead as a doornail. It wasn’t an act. Jesus has walked the way of death.

My brothers and sisters, as we venture into this most solemn week of the year, which the Church has observed with great devotion from earliest times, and as we walk through the pain of human experience, we do so in the certain knowledge that, wherever we may go, Jesus is there. He is with us, as a down payment on our redemption, in whatever we go through. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday

The centerpiece of the day was the annual Chrism Mass at the cathedral. The Bishop is by definition the presider at this liturgy, and this year I preached as well. Inclement weather in parts of the diocese prevented some from attending, but it was a good occasion nonetheless. 

Chrism Mass Homily

Springfield Cathedral -- Luke 4:16–21

This gospel passage from Luke, and the Isaiah passage from which it quotes, are among the most familiar words in all of scripture. We hear them nearly every year on this occasion, and they are scattered around at various other spots in the lectionary. In its original context in Isaiah, it describes the prophet’s own sense of vocation, and his endowment toward that calling by God’s own spirit. We can only assume, then, that the purpose of including this material in the Chrism Mass, where the ordained renew the vows they took when they were ordained, is that the lives of deacons, presbyters, and bishops are inherently ordered, configured, to some aspect of the ministry of Christ, that we are indeed anointed, that the Spirit of the Lord is actually upon us. The question naturally arises, then: How should the baptized faithful whom we lead, and, in turn, the world in which the baptized faithful are missionaries—how should those who look to us, directly or indirectly, expect to see us manifest, show forth, incarnate, the ministry of the Jesus who walked into the synagogue in Nazareth that day and took up the scroll to read?

The servant of God is anointed to “proclaim good news to the poor.” We cannot, as ordained leaders, or even as the whole church, solve the systemic causes of poverty, at least not any time soon. And I would remind us that “poverty” is a relative term. Those of you who have traveled to either of our companion dioceses have witnessed poverty of a sort that certainly does exist in our part of the world, but you have to look pretty hard to find it. So, while there’s certainly plenty we can to do to alleviate poverty to some degree, we can’t fix the systemic conditions that produce it. But what we can do is simply talk to people who are poor. We can take poverty out of the realm of the abstract and make it concrete. We can be with poor people. That much in itself is to “proclaim good news.” The good news is this: “We respect you. You have dignity. You have a voice. You matter. You are not a statistic. You are not an inconvenience or an eyesore. You are not invisible to us; we see you. Please allow us to be among you, with you.” We usually can’t pay next month’s rent, but we can respect the dignity of every human being.

The servant of God is anointed to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Now, when I get all poetic and metaphorical here in a moment, don’t think that I mean to degrade the reality of literal physical healing, whether through the efforts of the practice of medicine or through means that medicine cannot explain, something that we might refer to as a “miracle.” Miracles happen, mysterious healing happens, including recovery of sight for those who were blind. Praise God for it! But … what are people around us not seeing? How are those who can read all the letters on an eye exam chart without cheating still blind? What are we blind to, even if our eyes are working just fine?

People are blind to human dignity—first, their own human dignity, and then that of others. I have to say that technology has not been helpful here. Things that people are able to say under the perceived cover and anonymity of the internet nearly reduce me to tears at times, even when they’re not saying them about me! Even Episcopalians, for whom respecting the dignity of every human being is a prominent solemn vow, can be surprisingly and discouragingly blind about this.

People are also blind to manipulative rhetoric, both from political leaders and from critics of those leaders. It’s so easy to be blind to the way a question is carefully framed, so as to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but nowhere near the whole truth, and is thereby hugely deceptive. Only a few days ago I looked at a piece of campaign literature that came in the mail. It was about a race I hadn’t paid much attention to. The campaign that sent it said some things about the candidate’s position that very much resonated with me, and about his opponent that made me go, “Ewww.” Then it occurred to me that I was being sucked in by classic negative advertising. I did some internet research, and ended up voting for the opponent. But I almost didn’t open my eyes. I was almost blind to what was happening. Of course, this happens not only in politics, but in commerce, by those who want to influence our buying decisions. It all tends to enflame our passions and stoke our fears and turn “good” people into human weapons. My sisters and brothers, the spirit of the Lord is upon us to proclaim recovery of sight to those who are blind in these ways.

The servant of God is anointed to proclaim liberty to captives, to let the oppressed go free. What holds people around us in bondage? What oppresses people? Certainly, the mindless and exploitative exercise of privilege rooted in race or gender is a major source of oppression, and Christians are rightly involved in efforts to change cultures in which such things are either unseen, tolerated, or perpetuated. People are also held captive and oppressed by addition: addiction to alcohol and other substances, addiction to gambling, addiction to sex, addiction to work and addiction to success. People are held captive by and addicted to fear: fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of suffering, and fear of death. Most pervasively, perhaps, people are held captive and oppressed by envy and by the anger that invariably accompanies envy. Our society constantly attempts to condition us to be envious of anyone who has a dollar more than we do, or lives in a nicer house, or drives a cooler car, or who has succeeded where we haven’t yet. And this envy gives birth to a slow-burning anger that eats away at us like a spiritual ulcer. Envy and anger hold people captive, and oppress them.

Our mandate to announce a year—a season, an opportune moment—acceptable to the Lord means we can assure those around us that poverty doesn’t have the last word, but that God, who is rich in mercy, has the last word. The acceptable years of the Lord means that we speak words of light and life into the darkness and blindness that surrounds us, that we enable people to recover their sight, and recognize that which wants to deceive them and lead them into falsehood. The acceptable year of the Lord energizes and vindicates our work of liberation—liberation from the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, liberation from addiction and fear, and liberation from envy and anger that corrode the soul.

As we renew our vows, as we connect once again with the anointing of our ordination, may grace abound for us to do these things. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday (St Gregory the Illuminator)

A travel day, long but hitch-free. Breakfast with Fr Shranz and his brother (in from Albuquerque for last night's occasion), then to the airport in Baltimore for an 11:30 departure to Atlanta. Fairly brief layover there before catching another Delta flight to Peoria, where my car was. I pulled into my driveway at home at around 5:30.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday (James DeKoven)

Out the door and on the road just a few minutes before the entirely ungodly hour of 4am. Drove north to Peoria "International" (really?) airport or a 6:20 departure for Minneapolis, and after a short layover, caught the 8:55 to Baltimore, arriving at 12:20. I was picked up by the rector of St Mary's, Abingdon, who was kind enough to take me through the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A before depositing me at the church. I was met there by Don Shranz, who was the reason for my trip. We talked/walked through the choreography of this evening's liturgy, after which he drove me to a nearby Hampton Inn (my home away from home) for some much-needed downtime, a bit of which was spent on the phone with Delta straightening out an itinerary wrinkle. Don retrieved me at 5:00, ahead of the scheduled 5:30 liturgy rehearsal, some refreshments, and a 7:00 service. That was the occasion for formally receiving Don, who was once ordained by the Roman Catholics, as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It was a luminous, joy-filled occasion for a community that is immensely supportive of his ministry. There's no immediate gain for the Diocese of Springfield in this. We processed Don's reception as a favor to the rector of St Mary's, and with the full knowledge and support of the Diocese of Maryland, whose assisting bishop was present tonight. It's great fun to be involved in something like this.

Homily at the Reception of Fr Donald Schranz

St Mary's, Abingdon, MD--Feast of James DeKoven

My friends, I bring you greetings from the clergy and people of the Diocese of Springfield. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am delighted to be here, on what I believe is my fourth visit to the state of Maryland in my more than 66 years on this planet, and I am grateful for the warm hospitality I have already received from St Mary’s Church, and, in advance of the occasion, from Bishops Sutton and Knudsen. It is truly good to be here.

This is a happy occasion. It’s happy because it is a celebration of wholeness. It is certainly a celebration of wholeness for Don. Many years ago, Don answered a call from God, a call to serve as a priest, a priest who serves as a living and walking icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd leading his flock to green pastures and still waters, proclaiming good news in their midst, and breaking the eucharistic bread for them, the gift of God that regularly reconstitutes them as the people of God. That vocation, for a litany of reasons, was interrupted, derailed. Tonight, we are putting it back on the rails. When Don was ordained, an indelible mark, an indelible character, was conferred on him. He had answered God’s call, as Isaiah did—“Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Even though circumstances conspired to derail him from that ministry, Don has never not been a priest since that day. Now that ministry, that character, that mark, is once again visible for all to see. God is taking something that had been cast down and raising it up, as we pray in that luminous collect associated with ordinations that is so connected to the heart of the gospel, and the heart of the Church’s life, that we also hear it on Good Friday and again, a day later, at the Great Vigil of Easter. Yes, something that had been cast down is being raised up; something that had grown old is being made new, and our faith is that, in God’s good plan, it will be a thread in the cosmic tapestry of redemption in which all things are being brought to perfection through him by whom all things were made.

Tonight is also a celebration of wholeness for the Church—formally for the Diocese of Springfield, effectually for the Diocese of Maryland and for this parish. Don’s ministry is a sacrament—a symbol that actually conveys what it symbolizes—a sacrament of holy order. The God whom we serve is a God of order, not of chaos, and even while the Spirit is like the wind that blows where it will, the Church has, from its earliest days, been an ordered community. In the New Testament itself, we find apostles and deacons and bishops and presbyters. Order that is necessary for the people of God to be “built up in every way into Christ,” as St Paul write to the Colossians. As of tonight’s celebration of wholeness, there is now one more shepherd on duty, ordering the Church, tending the flock of Christ, leading the baptized faithful into that which connects the human soul to the One who is both its source and its destiny

Wholeness for Don, wholeness for the Church, and, finally, wholeness for the world. Yes, tonight is also a celebration of wholeness for the world, because the priestly people of God—a “kingdom of priests from every language, tribe, people, and nation,” as St John describes it in the Book of Revelation—the priestly people of God is energized by what we do here tonight to stand in the gap between the needs of the world and the loving justice of God. Father Donald Schranz stands with the other presbyters among whom he serves and leads the baptized faithful in shining God’s light into the world’s darkness, speaking God’s pardon and forgiveness into the world’s guilt, injecting God’s truth into the world’s deception, extending the community of the Holy Trinity into the world’s alienation, and declaring God’s victory over sin and death into the word’s despair.

James De Koven, on whose feast day we are worshiping this evening, was a tireless seeker after wholeness. He contended for what were known in that time, about 150 years ago, as “Catholic privileges” in the Episcopal Church. These are things that we pretty much now take for granted, as if they have never gone away; things like the Eucharist as the main liturgy on Sunday, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, sacramental confession, vestments, incense, candles, and the like. The word “catholic” comes from the Greek expression kata holos, according to the entirety, according to the whole. Don, I can think of no worthier patron under whom to place your reclaimed ministry of priesthood, your reclaimed ministry of making whole, now itself made whole.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday (Thomas Ken)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of some administrative details pertaining to one of our Eucharistic Communities that is presently in a regular relationship with a supply priest.
  • Played with hot wax: Signed and sealed the certificate by which I will, tomorrow evening, receive Donald Schranz into presbyteral orders in the Episcopal Church.
  • Saw to some details regarding Saturday's Chrism Mass--mostly, creating a large-print ceremonial binder for my own use.
  • Substantive visit with Dean Hook on a range of issues.
  • Worked on refining and editing my Palm Sunday homily. (I'll be at the cathedral for all of Holy Week, through Easter morning.)
  • Broke for lunch from McD's eaten at home.
  • Completed the homiletical work I began before lunch.
  • Sat with (and walked with, and wrestled with) my exegetical notes on the gospel for Easter III, on which I will be preaching at St Thomas', Salem, trying to listen for a message statement from which to develop a sermon. Of all the phases of sermon prep, this is the one that is the most like giving birth, I would imagine. It certainly does constitute labor! It took walking several laps around the nave of the cathedral, but a way forward eventually emerged. God is always faithful.
  • Responded by email to some questions from the powers-that-be for Province V about what our priorities and goals are in the diocese, what we're doing to accomplish the same, what's working and not working, and what help we need.
  • Read and responded to an email from a priest of another communion who wishes to start discussions on having his orders received in the Episcopal Church. There's a canonical process for that, which I laid out for him. 
  • Read a long hand-written missive from a lay communicant in the diocese that asked for absolutely nothing. The author was just sharing a witness of lifetime of experience of God's intimate involvement in his life. It was actually quite moving.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday (St Cuthbert)

  • Regular weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Discussed an ongoing administrative situation with the Archdeacon.
  • Did some final edits, formatted, and printed the working text of my homily for Thursday evening, when I will receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church, this taking place at St Mary's in Abingdon, Maryland.
  • Attended a bit to the ongoing task of overseeing travel arrangements for Bishop Elias and Lucy to visit us from Tabora this June.
  • Got to work on my homily for this Saturday's Chrism Mass, taking it from "developed notes" toward "working script," which was a long leap.
  • Broke from this to head home for lunch. Leftovers.
  • Stopped by my polling place to vote. It's barely more than a stone's throw from my home, but in another congressional district!
  • Finished the homiletical work I had begun before lunch.
  • Attended by email to some liturgical details pertaining to the Chrism Mass.
  • Wrote a 500-word article for the next issue of the Springfield Current. It will go live on the website Easter Monday.
  • Did some online research for "best practices" in employee performance reviews. Made some pertinent notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Up and out with Brenda at a humane hour--8:30--in order to be at St Thomas', Glen Carbon in time to preside and preach at their regular 10:30 liturgy. Sunday Mass is virtually always the highlight of my week. After the coffee hour, Kassi Lattina, director of the daycare and preschool operated by St Thomas', took us on a tour of the facility. Under Kassi's leadership, it's gone from serious red ink to serious black ink, with increased enrollment and a great reputation in the community. Since the Diocese of Springfield has financial skin in this game, this is a very welcome development.

Sermon for Lent V

St Thomas', Glen Carbon--Hebrews 5:1-10

One does not need to monitor the news media for very long before hearing about death and destruction on a massive scale: volcanoes erupting now in Indonesia, the season for tornadoes and floods in the midwest shortly upon us, a potential earthquake at any moment in many parts of the world. The succession of violent attacks on groups of innocent people boggle the mind.
Within the living memory of many, some 20 million people perished under the death machine of the Nazis. And if it weren’t for Hitler, the names of Josef Stalin and Pol Pot would by competing for top honors in the genocide category. And all this just within the last seventy years!

But if you’d rather study history than journalism, there’s plenty there as well. Names like Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible and the Vikings come to mind. And, of course, the bubonic plague wiped out fully ten percent of the population of Europe in its successive attacks during the late Middle Ages. The inescapable reality of human experience is that pain and suffering and cruelty are all around us.

And our biggest fear—if we were to stop and take a spiritual inventory of ourselves—our biggest fear is that it will all turn out to be meaningless, that our own suffering and the suffering of everyone else in the world will, in the end, turn out to be arbitrary, random, devoid of any redemptive purpose. Life is just—as it has been said about the Dark Ages—life is just “nasty, brutish, and short.” We suffer until we die, then we’re forgotten, lost in a sea of statistics that future generations of school children will read about—no names, just lots of big numbers.

And so we feel ourselves to be very much alone in this “vale of tears.” Death is the ultimate symbol of alienation and loneliness, because we do it all by ourselves. It is the one trip that we don’t get to have company on. We each have to face it individually, alone. But long before we get to that point, that point of death, there is plenty of opportunity to feel isolated, to feel abandoned. Even when we are surrounded by other people, even in the middle of close family and community relationships, we can easily feel cut off, disconnected, like our own skin is a stone wall that prevents us from truly sharing and participating in the lives of others, that keeps us from knowing and being known, that keeps us from understanding and being understood. How frustrating this barrier is. First it makes us angry and then it makes us crazy. It blocks intimacy and communion between human hearts and human souls.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the densest and most technical parts of the entire Bible. It can be really tough going. But today, it scratches us where we itch. It speaks directly to our pain.
The author is trying to set Jesus up as the supreme example of a high priest, and in order to make his case, he starts by talking about the priesthood of the Old Covenant, the priesthood established by God for the people of Israel at the time of Moses, some twelve to fifteen hundred years before Christ. The job of an Israelite priest was to offer animal sacrifices as an atonement before God for the sins of the people, to shed the blood of the innocent on behalf of the guilty. A priest had to be chosen by God, and the usual sign of being chosen by God was pretty simple—being born in the the tribe of Levi. A priest also had to be one of the people, “chosen from among men,” as the author of Hebrews puts it.

The point, of course, is that Jesus meets both qualifications. He was not a Levite, but he was chosen by God, designated by a voice from Heaven when he came up from the waters of the Jordan River after being baptized: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And he was also one of the people, “chosen from among men,” as is illustrated by his offering up to God “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears,” particularly in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion. Jesus is therefore a model for our journey through the human experience of suffering and loneliness and alienation and, ultimately, death. He is with us in and through our confusion and depression and the temptation to abandon hope. When we lift up our own agonizing prayer before the Father, prayer to be delivered from the distress that we are in, prayer to be allowed to see and grasp what it all means, prayer that the suffering of those who lost loved ones to the plague a thousand years ago, or to a school shooting last month—prayer that their suffering will not be in vain, that it will be redeemed—when we lift up our own agonizing prayer before the Father, Jesus’s own agonizing prayer is joined with it. Our faithful high priest, “who was in every tempted as we are, yet did not sin,” joins his prayers with ours.

Jesus, our High Priest, also gives us an example. He faced temptation and suffering at least as intense as that which you and I face, and he did it with courage and faith and obedience. Of course, we don’t have it within us to copy his example perfectly by the force of sheer willpower, but when we cooperate with the grace Jesus himself supplies—grace made available to us in, among other places, the sacrament of Holy Communion—when we cooperate with grace, we can become more and more like Jesus, and participate in his courage, his faith, and his obedience.

As our high priest, Jesus blazes the trail through the traps and dangers and snares of the human experience. Wherever we go, Jesus has already been there. He has marked the road, straightened out a few curves and smoothed out a few rough spots. He has posted warning signs telling us about dangerous places. And if we do have a wreck, or break down, he’s installed call boxes within convenient walking distance of wherever we might find ourselves in trouble.

But, most of all, Jesus our great High Priest has redeemed our suffering by his own suffering, which has the additional benefit of making our suffering also redemptive for others. When things go wrong—when marriages get stressed, and sometimes get sick and die, when family relationships are strained, whether they be biological families or church families, when we are confronted with unwelcome setbacks to our health or to our finances—when things go wrong, Jesus takes that wrong and unites it with his own pain, with his own “prayers and supplications and loud cries and tears,” and thereby brings it under the covering shadow of his redemptive grace. The things that go wrong might not ever disappear this side of eternity, but in the mystery of redeeming grace, in the mercy of Jesus our great high priest, they can be transoformed into conduits of healing and life.

Let us not take lightly, or turn our back on, so great a salvation. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday

  • Usual weekday AM routine, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Today's task list was long on short items--i.e. a long list of things, most of which involved answering emails about pastoral and administrative matters, responding to requests for appointments, and the like. That's what I got started with.
  • The balance of the morning was devoted to spending quality time with commentaries on St Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on Easter III at St Thomas', Salem.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spoke by phone with a longtime good friend who is now a retired bishop. We are a support to one another.
  • Another stack of email-driven pastoral/administrative/consultative engagements.
  • Made lodging arrangements to attend the meeting of the Nashotah House corporation (of which I remain a member) in May.
  • Canceled my registration (and hotel reservation) to attend the scheduled triennial synod of Province V nest month. #cutbackonunnecessarytravel
  • Processed my physical inbox: scanning, categorizing, tagging.
  • Put on my best pastor's hat to respond by email to a message from a lay communicant in the diocese in which I had to give an answer that I know disappointed the person. Time will tell whether my efforts to maintain cordiality and goodwill while doing so will succeed.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on the OT daily office reading for tomorrow--Moses and the burning bush. 
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday

  • Customary Thursday morning treadmill workout. At the office around 0930.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Fleshed out the rough draft of my next-due post on the Covenant blog. Did some editing and refining. Sent it on by email to the editor (who will no doubt do some more refining!). This took most of the morning.
  • Dealt briefly by email with a smidgen of General Convention business.
  • Read and commented on the draft minutes from the February meeting of Diocesan Council.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Dealt briefly with a small administrative matter.
  • Booked air travel, hotel, and car rental for next month's meeting of the Living Church Foundation board in Oklahoma City. When I was a rookie bishop, this was a seriously time-consuming endeavor. With experience, I'm much savvier about my options, so it's just somewhat time-consuming.
  • Got to work on my Palm Sunday homily, taking it from the "developed notes" to the "rough draft" stage. (I'll be at the cathedral from Palm Sunday through Easter.)
  • It was 4pm, so I headed home to retrieve Brenda, and then drive down to St George's, Belleville for the Lenten soup supper. My two appearances this year have concerned the vows and promises of Holy Baptism, not the much-vaunted "Baptismal Covenant," but the renunciations and affirmations that happen right after the presentation of the candidate(s). The former are coherent only in light of the latter.
  • Home at 9:15, feeling kind of poorly--chills and sweats, cough, headache, lingering nasal congestion, very low-grade fever. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday

  • Task planning at home over breakfast. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted briefly with one of our clergy over an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter.
  • Left a voicemail message with Bishop Roth, my ELCA counterpart in central and southern Illinois.
  • Added a couple of editorial flourishes to the draft Chrism Mass program.
  • Got to work on fleshing out the rough notes/draft of my sermon next week when I receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church.
  • Stepped out for an appointment with my own psychotherapist. Not too proud to acknowledge that I sometimes need help with the curveballs life throws my way.
  • Back in the office--connected by phone with Bishop Roth. Resumed working on the above-referenced homily.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to a doctor's appointment.
  • Back in the office--resumed work on that sermon yet again, and this time finished the task.
  • Emmanuel, Champaign is having a big celebration of the centennial of the church building on Pentecost. Yesterday the rector sent me a rough draft of the liturgical portion of the festivities for my review and comment. I reviewed and commented. (May it please God to provide us with fine weather that day.)
  • When you call your doctor's office and they say, "Can you come in right now?" the answer has got to be Yes, right? So that's what I did. I've been having some annoyingly increasing nasal congestion that is beginning to seriously interfere with both my sleeping and my waking. It appears to be allergy-driven. So now I have a close relationship with Flonase and a sinus rinse system. Between the office visit and the ensuing pharmacy visit, that shot the rest of my afternoon.
  • Evening Prayer at home.