Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXV Pentecost)

Up, fed, and out of our Bloomington hotel room in time to head west for about an hour-and-a-quarter and arrive in Havana well-early for their regular 1000 Sunday liturgy. Presided, preached, and confirmed an adult. There were 32 warm bodies in the room, which is more than double the previous high total for any of my prior visitations. So my day was made early. After the usual delicious and ample post-liturgical repast, we headed on down to Springfield, and checked in at the Doubletree downtown. (It feels weird and sad to be in an area we feel so at home in and not have it be actually home anymore.) We rested for a while, then went out and saw a movie (Indivisible) and caught a late supper at Popeye's.

Sermon for Proper 27

St Barnabas', Havana--Mark 12:38-44, I Kings 17:8-16

I have a radio on my nightstand and a radio in my car. In both of these locations, the default setting, for more than 40 years now, has been to whatever the local public radio station is. I listen to National Public Radio news and, while they were still on the air, Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk, as well, classical music and jazz, though those things aren’t aired as much as they used to be. If it weren’t for satellite radio now, I really wouldn’t have much to listen to if public radio were not around. And it helps that there are no commercials, as such. But, twice a year, as you may know, there’s a fund-raising drive. I wake up to it, hit the ‘Snooze’ button, and when it comes back on nine minutes later, they’re still talking about money, so I hit the ‘Snooze’ button again, and when it comes back on, they’re still at it. I assume that they sneak some regular programming in there occasionally, but sometimes I wonder. So, by the time I get in my car, I don’t even bother to turn the radio on during those two weeks each year.

But, at least I turn my radio off with a clear conscience, because I know I’ve made a financial contribution to my local station. I’m not one of those loathsome freeloaders who listen without paying. I do my share. I pull my weight. It’s only fair, after all. If I want public radio to stay on the air, I’ve got to band together with others to help make it happen. If it goes down the tubes, and I haven’t been supporting it with my dollars, then I’ve got no one to blame except myself.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re entirely used to the notion of “paying dues.” When you’re a member of some association or community or other organized aggregation of human beings, and you derive some benefit from that affiliation, you expect to make a financial contribution to it. When that organized aggregation of people is a political entity, then the financial contribution becomes mandatory, and we call it taxation. But the principle is the same. And it isn’t just financial. I can remember when I first wanted to play Little League baseball, and my parents were entirely supportive … entirely supportive, that is, until they found out they were expected to do more than pay a fee and get me to my games and practices on time. I still got to play, but it was an awakening for my parents.

Yet, even when we pay dues, and even when those dues are called “taxes,” the amount we are asked to contribute is still a relatively small percentage of our total resources. Even billionaires in the highest tax brackets, who pay more in taxes each year than some of us might earn in a lifetime, have more money than they know what to do with after paying their “dues” to the government. This is in stark contrast to two unnamed women whom we encounter in today’s liturgy—one in the Old Testament, one in the New; one a Jew and the other a Gentile; one living in the time of Christ and one living several hundred years earlier in the time of Elijah. What unites them is that they were both widows, and were both desperately poor.

We read first today about the Gentile widow in the Phoenician village of Zarephath. The Hebrew prophet Elijah paid her a visit during a period of drought and asked her for some food. If she’d had the energy, she would have laughed in his face, because her total resources amounted to a cup or so of flour and one or two tablespoons of oil and a few dried sticks. With that, she was preparing to fix a last meal for herself and her son, for they would surely then die of hunger. Now, Elijah had a plan to help this lady, but—perhaps because he wasn’t himself 100% sure of it—he neglected to inform her of that fact. Instead, he asked of this Gentile widow something quite extraordinary. He asked her to take her meager resources, and fix him a meal first, and only then prepare a pancake for herself and her son. Elijah may as well have asked this woman to slit her wrists and let him drink her very life’s blood. He was asking her to give him, a stranger, everything she had, to hold nothing back.

Years later, as Jesus and his disciples are standing outside the temple in Jerusalem; they are watching various people place their monetary offerings in the collection box. People who were materially well off made a great show of placing heavy bags, obviously full of very valuable coins, into the box. Those bags of money would go a long way toward helping the temple meet its annual operating budget and maintain the fabric of the physical plant. Then, a widow arrives, and places two small coins in the box. They are of virtually no value, each coin worth less than one cent in today’s terms. Jesus observes that those two coins represented all she had, “her whole living.” The fact that there were two coins is of tremendous significance, because she could have kept one back for herself. She still would have been giving a full 50% of her resources to the Lord, certainly a commendable act. But she gave it all, she held back nothing.

In their faithfulness, demonstrated in concrete action, these two widows show us what it means to be a steward of resources that have been entrusted to us by God. Stewardship is not about giving a certain percentage of our time to God. Stewardship is not about giving a certain percentage of our money to God. Stewardship is not about reverencing God, devoting a certain percentage of our affection to God. Stewardship is about making a gift of our selves to God, holding back nothing, offering God all we have, our “whole living.” Now, this is such a central concept in coming to spiritual maturity that there’s no way I could stress it too highly or articulate it with sufficient eloquence. It can be a hard place to get to. So, any talk of “percentage giving” is really quite meaningless until one comes to this stage of development, this place of complete and unrestricted self-giving to God.

Now, I realize, of course, that we are in the heart of “stewardship season” throughout most of the Episcopal Church, though I don’t know precisely where you are with it at St Barnabas’. Maybe you already have your 2019 pledge card available to fill out. Maybe Fr Newago has encouraged you to tithe—to give 10% of your after-tax income to the Lord through the work of the parish at whose altar you are regularly fed. But now I want to put a condition on that encouragement to tithe—to give that 10%. If you have not reached the point in your own spiritual development where you have told God, “I’m completely yours. Make of me what you will; I am an empty vessel; fill me”—if you have not reached that point, then listen to me: Do not tithe! You can still make a pledge, and I hope you do. St Barnabas’ needs your financial gifts. But it is spiritually dangerous to tithe if you think you’re doing so out of your own magnanimity, out of your own abundance, from a place of being blessed, full of resources. Jesus wants us to give, not out of our abundance, but out of our poverty. Until we come to the place where we can say, “I am poor,” no matter how much money we have in our wallets or in the bank, tithing can become a source of pride, and can take us to hell just as quickly as being stingy and giving nothing. Now, please understand me: I’m not trying to discourage tithing. I’m trying to encourage stewardship. I’m trying to hold up the example of the two widows who are the stars of today’s episode of The Holy Eucharist—the holy Thanksgiving.

And here’s how our relationship with the Church differs from our relationship with public radio or youth athletic organizations or service clubs or any other association we may belong to. When we put money into a church offering envelope, we’re not paying dues. We’re not contributing our “fair share” in response to the benefits we receive from belonging. This is critical to remember, because “dues paying” makes us think we have a “controlling interest”—in every sense of that expression—paying dues makes us think we have a controlling interest in whatever it is we give. Ironically, we sometimes even use the word “stewardship” to justify our “controlling interest,” as in “I just want to be sure that my money that I give is being used wisely.” That’s good common sense, from a human standpoint, but it falls short of Christian stewardship. A Christian steward gives, and then lets go. Somehow I doubt that the widow outside the Jerusalem temple wrote a letter to the High Priest asking for an accounting of the two half-pennies she dropped into the collection box. She gave everything she had, and then let go. 

When we reach the point in our faith development where we can begin to act like stewards, however, all sorts of wonderful things happen. We loosen our grip on the concrete signs of what we think we are “giving,” and, in the process, acquire a capacity to enjoy all that God is doing in a fresh way. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories—they are truly abundant, and my own is one of them—the stories of how a person or a family, with some fear and trembling, comes to the point where they realize that to not tithe is really to be robbing God, and so they say their prayers and swallow hard and do it, and then find that miracle after miracle happens, that the Lord provides for all their needs and then some, and that they are more richly blessed than they could ever have imagined. What such people are experiencing is nothing other than what the widow of Zarephath experienced when she summoned the faith to do precisely as Elijah had instructed her. She poured some flour from her flour container and some oil from her oil container and made Elijah a pancake. Then, with a trembling hand, no doubt, she lifted her flour container once more, and there was just enough to make another couple of cakes. Same with the oil. And there kept on being just enough until the drought broke and there was an ample supply of food once again. If she had not obeyed Elijah, she may indeed have made a last meal for herself and her son, and then died. Because of her faith, because of her willingness to give all she had, she was enabled to see the sustaining power of God.

NPR and PBS want our dues. God wants our selves. Let’s remember the difference. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday (St Leo the Great)

  • Began the work day by producing #26 in the eventual series of 30 daily office lectionary meditations for publication in Forward Day by Day in November of next year.
  • Spent the remainder of the daylight hours first making a drive out to suburban Palatine two receive a couple of pre-owned area rugs from my sister and her husband, hauling them back to our apartment, and working with our son and his wife getting them situated. They are in excellent condition, and look quite handsome in their new home.
  • At 5:20, having packed for four nights away, we pointed the YFNBmobile southward and drove until we hit Bloomington, where we are bedded down for the night in the familiar Doubletree. Tomorrow morning it's out to Havana and a visitation to St Barnabas' Church.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday

  • Morning Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel, which is slowly taking shape.
  • Task planning over breakfast.
  • Planned and plotted the last and longest of the clergy retreat presentations for next week. I hope to refresh and reinvigorate the stance of our clergy toward the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.
  • Took some time to hang a handful of the smaller wall decorations that we moved up here (the larger items having been hung some weeks ago), and sort the rest into the general locations where they will be mounted.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Used email to recruit clergy to specific jobs in our corporate worship next week.
  • Had a substantive phone conversation in relation to an ongoing pastoral issue.
  • Dug into commentaries on Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on III Advent at St John's, Centralia.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for today.
  • Attended to some personal financial chores.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • In the evening: Set down the broad strokes (and a few of the fine ones) of my next-due post on the Covenant blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thursday

  • Task planning over breakfast. Morning Prayer in my chair.
  • Made an email inquiry of the Administrator concerning clergy conference registration.
  • Sent sermons for two Sundays to a lay Worship Leader who will be officiating at Morning Prayer in one of our Eucharistic Communities where the priest will be a gone a bit this month,
  • Traded emails with a colleague bishop and one of our clergy over an emerging pastoral matter. Set up a phone call for later.
  • Did a deep dive into the not-yet-resolved new database app issue. Formulated some questions for Paige, who is running point on this.
  • Reviewed a collection of stills and videos from synod, and marked certain ones as appropriate for inclusion in an in-process video collage.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Had a long and substantive phone conversation with the above-referenced colleague bishop.
  • Took a vigorous hour-and-a-quarter walk. (It has been impressed on my repeatedly that, if there is a silver bullet for maintaining health into old age, it is exercise. I try to make it a "big rock."
  • Wrote for-the-file summaries of recent annual review conversations with two staff members.
  • Scanned, tagged, and categories hard-copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday (St Willibrord)

  • Morning Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel.
  • Did my best to read, mark, lean, and inwardly digest thick proposals from five investment management firms who are bidding to handle the diocesan investments. (The Bishop has ex oficio seat, voice, and vote on the diocesan trustees.) I am very grateful that there are people who find this sort of thing engaging, and can attend to the myriad of details. I do my best to hang in there.
  • Had tio have an early lunch of leftovers, get dressed up, and head out the door a little past noon. We had tickets to a matineé performance of Wagner's Siegfried at the Chicago Lyric Opera. The show had a five-hour run time, so it was 6:00 before we got out of there, enjoying dinner at a Brazilian churrascareia on our way home. The opera was magnificent, outstanding.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tuesday (William Temple)

  • Dealt with a short stack of recently-arrived emails first thing in the morning.
  • MP in my living room chair.
  • Dealt with a couple of quick household chores.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and posted my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana). The "printing" part consumed an inordinate amount of time, but with some persistence I solved a vexing technical glitch.
  • In the midst of this I had a substantive phone conversation with the president of the Standing Committee.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Planned the first half of the final session of next week's clergy conference.
  • Sent the music for the closing Eucharist to the organist for the occasion.
  • Succumbed to the call of a functional but not yet fully organized apartment to ... make it more organized. There will be other such occasions of distraction.
  • Took a brisk walk with Brenda.
  • Prayed the evening office with Brenda in our emerging chapel/oratory/multi-purpose room.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXIV Pentecost)

  • Waking up in my Springfield office/quarters at a somewhat ungodly hour due to the time change, I decided to "make lemonade," and set out at 0615 (CST) on a long walk that took me an hour-and-a-quarter: south on Spring to South Grand, east to Ninth, north to Carpenter, west to First, and south through the Capitol grounds back to the office.
  • God cleaned up and packed, hitting the road to Mattoon at 0810, stopping at McD's for a breakfast sandwich.
  • Presided and preached at Trinity's regular 1000 liturgy, confirming two adults and receiving one. Impressed to find that they now have a choir, anchored by four Eastern students who receive a small stipend. Substantive post-liturgical conversations with both laity and clergy.
  • Pulled into my Chicago garage at 4:20.

Sermon for All Saints

Trinity, Mattoon

Whenever we say the creed—whether it’s the Nicene Creed of the Eucharist or the Apostles’ Creed of Baptism—we say that we “believe in … the communion of saints.” So these words cross our lips frequently. But, of all the articles of the creed, I suspect that the one about the communion of saints is probably the least noticed and least understood by the majority of Christians. So let’s unpack it a little bit.

First, who are “the saints”? Let’s start with who they’re not. The saints are not people who were perfect in the way they lived their lives. They were not sinless people—at least not in this life, although we do give them that title “Saint” before their names because we believe—or suspect, at least—that they have now attained a state of sinlessness—in other words, perfect union with Christ—and are able to endure the presence of God without being turned to dust, which none of us, I suspect, could do. Nor were the saints, when they walked this earth, necessarily weirdos, religious freaks, “goody two-shoes” types who were “so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good,” the sort of people nobody can directly find fault with but everybody loves to hate anyway.

So, again, who are the saints? The saints are real, flesh and blood, Christian persons. The saints are people who ate and drank and slept and sinned and had dreams and ambitions. The saints are Christians who knew grief and disappointment, who loved and laughed and suffered and died—all pretty ordinary stuff! But there is, of course, a sense in which the saints were not ordinary at all, and that’s why we give them special recognition. They were uncommonly, heroically, devoted to Christ, and their devotion showed in the way they lived their lives, even if it was just in the manner of their dying, bearing witness to the gospel with their own blood, as martyrs.

I don’t know whether it’s just that I’m now well past midlife, and getting into old age, and feel like I have a long perspective on societal evolution, or whether our society has indeed changed, but it seems to me that we’re a lot more cynical than we used to be. We don’t have heroes anymore. Since Watergate, and other things, we have way fewer political heroes. Since steroids, it's harder to have baseball heroes. Heroism is just in short supply all around. Yet, if we try hard enough, we can think of teachers whose impact on our lives we can still feel years and decades later. As we age, it often becomes easier to see the positive impact that our parents had on who we are today. Or we may be aware of friends and neighbors and colleagues and business associates who have set an example and provide a pattern for us to admire and emulate. So, we may have to dig a little more deeply than earlier generations did, but we do have our heroes.

Well, the saints are the heroes and heroines of our Christian family. They are the ones whose names should come up as we sit around the campfire, or the kitchen table, or the parish hall coffee hour. The saints are the ones whose stories we should tell our children in order to inspire them to live lives of faith and devotion. The saints give us an example of how to live effectively as Christians in this world. They provide a pattern for us to emulate: in the way they loved, in the way they prayed, in the way they obeyed the call of Christ, in the way they served the world and the church and the church’s Lord, and, quite often, in the way they died.

The saints inspire us. They keep us company in the valley of our spiritual journeys, because they’ve been in valleys themselves. If we study their lives, we know something about those valleys, and can recognize them as being very similar to our own. By seeing that the saints were given God’s mercy and grace to see them through their time in the valley, our faith is increased that we also will receive mercy and grace to help in time of need, and we have the strength and confidence to persevere.

The saints encourage us in our journey toward joining them. Our destiny is to be with them, enjoying a vision of God’s glory that is unclouded by sin or suffering or fear. They see God face to face, which is the ultimate fulfillment of human existence. As Anglicans, with one foot in the Catholic world and one foot in the Protestant world, we are usually reserved about using the word “pray” with respect to our relationship to the saints. We’re instinctively a little queasy about praying to anybody but God. Our reluctance, however, is probably less theological than it is linguistic. Three hundred years ago, one might meet a stranger on the street and say, “I pray thee, dost thou have the time?” So, if we understand the word “pray” in the sense of simply asking for something, something as casual as asking a stranger for the time of day, we should be able to wrap our minds around asking the saints, the communion of God’s holy ones enjoying his unfiltered presence—asking the saints to hold us in their own prayers to the same God whom we worship and adore on earth.  We “pray” to the saints and they pray for us and we all pray to God together, because, as our collect tells us today, we have been knit together in one communion and fellowship.

The saints also call us into the “full measure and stature” of the identity in Christ that we were given in the sacrament of baptism. The covenant that God establishes with us in baptism, sealed in water and oil and given voice in the vows we make, and which we ratify when we’re confirmed, is a pretty radical statement. God promises to wash away our sins, adopt us as his children, graft us into the body of his Son, give us new life in this world and raise us to eternal life in the next. In acknowledging those gifts, we promise to love and serve him faithfully, to serve him in everyone we meet, to put the values of justice and righteousness before our own selfish interests. There are many points along the journey when we are tempted to weasel out of those vows, to hope God wasn’t really listening when we made them, or didn’t notice that our fingers were crossed. The saints are there to hold us accountable, to tell us, “Bad idea. Don’t wander off the road. Keep your eye on the prize. Trust us, it’s worth the effort!”

So…do you have your heroes in the communion of saints? If you do, ask them to pray for us as we’re gathered here this morning in worship. If not, then go get some! There are plenty to go around. All holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Saturday (Richard Hooker)

  • Up and out of my monk's cell/office around 0815. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Asked Siri, "Where's a good place to have breakfast near me?" and she suggested a place 1.8 miles away where I had never been in my n7.5 years living in Springfield. So I walk there, enjoyed some delicious biscuits and gravy, and walked back (40 minutes there, 45 minutes back).
  • Plowed through and disposed of, one way or another, a stack of accumulated emails.
  • Fleshed out plans for the penultimate session of the clergy conference.
  • Went out again--by car this time. Did a bit of shopping at HyVee, got a sandwich at Chick-Fil-A, and got the YFNBmobile washed.
  • Wrote a letter of recommendation for an individual applying to seminary.
  • Attended to some issues pertaining to a couple of projects Paige, our Communicator, is working on.
  • Prepared service leaflets for the once instance of Evensong at the clergy conference. This required downloading some version of Adobe Acrobat, so I could edit PDFs. It will come in handy in many ways, I'm sure. But the whole thing was very time-consuming.
  • Still working on the clergy conference, I acquired the legal right to use a hymn not in our hymnal, A small amount of money changed hands, and I made the copies we'll need. Used Adobe Acrobat!
  • Did some online research on what the grounds are for issuing a declaration of nullity of a marriage. Strangely, I have a request to do just that, and I'm trying ton take it seriously.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Did yet some more clergy conference prep (lassoing help for various liturgical chores).
  • Walked the four or five blocks down Spring Street to Bernie & Betty's, a pizza place I've always wanted to try. Had pizza and beer.
  • Came back to the office and ground out (churned out? whipped out?) #25 in the Forward Day by Day set of 30 that I'm working on for November of next year.
  • I think I've earned my keep today, and intend to watch a TV show on my iPad before I call it a night.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Friday (All Souls')

  • Another Friday morning waking up in my office. McD's for breakfast. Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Caught up with the Administrator on some mind-numbing details concerning clergy health insurance--in this case, my own!
  • Casual debrief with the Archdeacon on the usual "range of issues."
  • Eventually got to sorting and prioritizing my tasks for the day.
  • Met with the Administrator for her annual review.
  • My 1100 appointment arrived at 1035, a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities. That lasted about an hour.
  • Got to work refining, editing, printing, and posting my homily for this Sunday (celebrating All Saints at Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Attended the cathedral Mass for All Souls' Day.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten ... in my car (so I could listen to the radio). On of the downsides of the new order is that I don't have a home to go at lunchtime, which was an engrained habit.
  • From the office walked over to the county building on 9th street to exercise my franchise as an "early" voter. Successfully changed my registration to the address of the diocesan office, though it was unclear for a while whether they would allow me to do that.
  • Dealt with some technology issues (installing scanner software on the new laptop) so I could follow up on a loose end from my morning appointment.
  • Slogged through technology of a different sort trying to find the best way of transferring some funds to our companion diocese of Peru. Progress made, but problem not yet solved.
  • Prepared a handout (one of many) for the clergy conference.
  • Opened the file on a sermon for Advent III (St John's, Centralia)--covering it with prayer, and taking a first pass at the readings, making a few notes.
  • Prayer the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner at a southern/soul food place down on South Grand.
  • Back in the office: cranked out #24 in the eventual 30 lectionary meditations for Forward Movement.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints

  • Usual AM weekday routine.
  • Made substantial progress working out the details of my response to a parish of the diocese that has requested delegation of episcopal oversight to another bishop. There is still a great deal in this situation yet to unfold.
  • Attended to some personal financial chores.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Planned and prepped for yet one more clergy conference session. The subject is Holy Week worship, and I pretty much know what I want to present. It just needs to be gotten into pixels, and reviewed for thoroughness.
  • Responded by email to a couple of administrative issues.
  • Did some routine turn-of-the-month calendar maintenance.
  • Took a brisk hour-long walk.
  • Evening Prayer.
  • Ordered some beef and chicken shawarma to be delivered for dinner. There are some advantages to living in a large city.
  • Packed for the weekend and hit the road at 7:10. Arrived in my Springfield office at 10:40, and I'm ensconced for the night.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday early AM routine: email culling, internet surfing, task planning, breakfast, Morning Prayer.
  • Relatively short (as these things go) conversation with Comcast over a lingering move-in issue.
  • Longer tech support conversation with Quicken.
  • Developed my working notes for Session 4 of the clergy conference.
  • Takeout lunch from the not-too-bad Chinese place around the corner.
  • Stepped out to pick up some dry cleaning. Got back and found the cable guy there early. Assisted him (with stuff like basement access and a step stool) while he took care of some dangling loose ends from the original not-too-great installation.
  • Performed reconstructive surgery on a sermon text from 1997 on Proper 28 (Nov. 18 at All Saints, Morton), making it time-sensitive to 2018.
  • Made a run across the street to Walgreens for some trick-or-treat candy. Turned out not be be necessary, as we had no takers.
  • Took a long and brisk walk on a fine fall day.
  • Evening Prayer.
  • Fixed dinner ("comfort food" ground beef tacos).
  • Wrote lectionary reflection #23 (of an eventual 30) for Forward Day by Day (appearing a year from now).
  • Attended to some Living Church Foundation board business.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tuesday

The day got started in an orderly manner, and then descended into technology-driven chaos. In the morning, I had a significant phone conversation with a priest of the diocese, followed up on some issues by email, outlined another session of the clergy conference, and worked on my sermon for Proper 27 (November 11 at St Barnabas', Havana). So for, so good. Grabbed some lunch to bring home from the taqueria around the corner, and enjoyed some time with our son and granddaughter. Then I head by train down to the Apple store. My 2012 Macbook has been showing various signs of aging lately, and 6+ years seems a respectable lifetime for a computer, and since my laptop is pretty much the means for me to both *do* and *be* in my daily work, I discerned that the time had come. Actually going out and making the purchase and getting home with it consumed well less than two hours. But the rest of the afternoon and evening was devoted to setup. There haven't been any huge issues, but it just all takes time. I want to hit the ground running tomorrow and not have technology call attention to itself.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXIII Pentecost)

Up and out of the Bloomington Doubletree while it was still dark and rainy in order be at St Matthew's ahead of their regular 0730 liturgy. Presided, preached ... and baptized, which doesn't normally happen at the early service, in places that *have* an early service. What a joy. Then Brenda and I stepped out for some breakfast. Then, ten minutes before the 1000 Mass, we discovered we were doing yet another baptism--the candidate is seven years old, very much wanted to be baptized, had the support of her grandparents, with only the parents, not practicing Christians, standing in the way. Today, they relented, and we welcomed Tinley into the household of God. No matter how many times I do it, that moment of looking into someone's eyes and telling them that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever never gets old. It was a happy morning. Lunch at Red Lobster with the rector, the deacon, and a couple of parishioners, then back up I-55 to our Chicago abode. Home around 4:20.

Sermon for Proper 24

St Matthew's, Bloomington--Hebrews 5:12-6:1, 9-12; Mark 10:46-52

I'm going to begin my sermon with a question—actually, several questions, rhetorical questions, questions that I don't expect you to answer to me, but to think about seriously.

What is your greatest temptation to sin? If it met you with full force this afternoon, what would be your resources to resist it?

If someone asked you to explain why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, could you? 

If a bible-believing neighbor pointed out to you where Jesus said, "Call no man 'father’” and called you to account for the way male priests are customarily addressed in the church, what would be your response?

What do you think of the statement that religion is just a matter of personal taste and upbringing, because they all eventually lead to the same God? 

Is regular prayer one of the central habits of your life? 

If you were to be diagnosed with terminal cancer tomorrow, would your faith in God fly out the window? 

In short, how well equipped are you to meet all the spiritual challenges and crises that could very conceivably come your way?

And now, let me ask these same questions of you corporately, as the parish community of St Matthew's.

How well-equipped are you to meet the challenges and crises that may well lie ahead for you?  How would you cope if your beautiful and historic—in a mid-century modern sort of way—church building were destroyed by fire or tornado? What will you do if your next bishop, in contrast to your current one, publicly ridicules belief in our Lord's resurrection? What will you do if this neighborhood in which you are comfortably located seriously deteriorates?

I don't know about you, but these questions—both the personal ones and the corporate ones—put me in a very sober mood. As a pastor, I know that a great many members of my flock are poorly prepared for spiritual challenge and spiritual crisis.  Things may seem to be cruising right along in their walk with the Lord, but let stress or adversity come along, and they'd be in some trouble. And as a flock, while you all are, thanks be to God, doing passably well at the present time, I am concerned about how well you would do in the face of some of the potential crises that might come along. Many of the baptized faithful throughout the Diocese of Springfield are, in the words of the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, still spiritual babes, children in the faith, when, in fact, many more of us ought to be “teachers,” mature spiritual adults, capable of leading and nurturing others. We haven't yet even mastered the fundamentals, let alone moved on to the fine points of life in Christ. Our growth is stunted, because we are too often satisfied with a diet of spiritual baby food—milk, "formula"—when we should have graduated to solid food, “meat,” substantive spiritual nourishment. 

In a few moments, we're all going to stand up and recite the Nicene creed. If your unchurched neighbor were sitting next to you in the pew, could you explain what the phrases of the creed mean, and why we believe them? If that same neighbor said to you, "All that dogma and doctrine is irrelevant; isn't being a Christian just a matter of living as Jesus did, and following his example of upright and ethical living?” would you be able to respond?

In my experience, the prime example of spiritual immaturity, of not having even mastered the basics of the gospel, is a widespread misconception about how one gets into heaven. A great many baptized Christians—people who have been reborn in Christ but have not grown much since that time—entertain the notion that after we die, all of our good deeds during life are piled up on one side of a scale, and all our bad deeds are loaded onto the other side, and our eternal destiny is determined by whichever side weighs more, by whether or not we were a “good person.” Am I making this up, or is this not the prevailing perception of how things work? Unfortunately, it is, at best, a crude and distorted shadow of Christian teaching, in much the same way that a first-grader’s reading book is a crude and distorted shadow of English literature.  But so many of us cling to this image, and other examples of theological baby food, because we've gotten used to how it tastes, and how smooth and comfortable it is, how warm and familiar it feels. We remain spiritual infants because we either don't know any better, or because we are simply afraid of the change that growth demands of us.

Growing up is hard — most of us would not want to repeat the traumas of childhood —and it's no wonder that we want to stay where it's warm and comfortable. Most babies don't particularly enjoy being weaned, but a good mother knows that it's in the best interests of the child that she force the issue. Physical and emotional development that is appropriate and even cute at eight months is inappropriate and tragic at eight years. We call it a developmental disability, and we love and accept those to whom it happens, but we weep bitterly when it does. Why are we so tolerant, then, of spiritual developmental disability?

The good news today is that God is a loving Father, and he has the cure for our stagnant spiritual development. He wants to introduce us to the joys of solid food, spiritual meat. He has laid out for us a spiritual banquet table overloaded with delicious and nourishing food, everything we need to grow up as mature and joyful Christians, faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. When the persistent cries of blind Bartimaeus resulted in Jesus turning his attention to him and restoring his sight, Mark's gospel tells us that he got up and followed Jesus, he became a pilgrim on the way of discipleship. The solid food of the gospel nourishes us along that same way. The solid food of the gospel carries us into a life-giving relationship with the one who is himself the bread of life and living water, a relationship that captures our hearts and imaginations and liberates us to love as we have been loved. The solid food of the gospel fills us with the truth that comes from him who is the truth, teaching that enables us to discern the authentic word of the Lord among the clamoring and competing philosophies and ideologies of this world. The solid food of the gospel calls us into a life of discipline that empowers us to resist the wiles of the Evil One, the tempter, who wants nothing more than to snatch our souls from the bosom of Christ the way a predatory wolf attacks the slow and defenseless newborns among a herd of elk. If we eat solid food and move beyond newborn status, we are less vulnerable to spiritual predators.

The solid food of the gospel enables us to lead lives of purpose and inner tranquility even when the storm is raging around us. It grows mature Christians who are resilient in their faith, and bounce back from adversity, and who, even in the midst of it, radiate the peace that passes understanding. The solid food of the gospel produces parish churches that are dynamic and growing, churches with such vitality in their worship that every pew is filled, and with such vital programs that every bit of space is utilized to the fullest. Doesn't solid food sound delicious? Isn't it worth the temporary trauma of being weaned? The banquet table is about to be set. It will bear the very gifts of God for the people of God. When the dinner bell rings, COME AND GET IT.  AMEN.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saturday

  • Morning Prayer in my living room chair.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and posted my homily for tomorrow at St Matthew’s, Bloomington.
  • Attended to personal chores and errands until mid-afternoon, when I made preparations for the second session of next month’s clergy retreat.
  • Packed and hit the road southbound with Brenda at 6:00pm, stopping someplace south of I-80 for some yummy burrito bowls, arriving at the Bloomington Doubletree at 9:15.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday (St Alfred the Great)

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer in my living room chair.
  • Put some effort into solving a tech glitch that has annoyed me for several days--the email client I use wasn't downloading messages sent to my diocesan account (I've still been getting them, but by logging in directly to Outlook on Office 365). Of course, as soon as I gave up and generated a service ticket, everything started behaving as it's supposed to. That's the way it goes.
  • Chased down some information pertaining to an ongoing pastoral/administrative concern. Got this accomplished by email and turning my laptop sideways to read a PDF.
  • Got down to detailed planning of the Monday evening session of the upcoming clergy conference. Interestingly, this caused me to spend quality time with the 1928 and 1662 Prayer Books, as well as the Anglican Missal.
  • Lunch from leftovers.
  • Finished the aforementioned clergy conference task, then plowed right ahead into plotting the liturgy details for said conference. Juggled two hymnals and a Psalter to get this done.
  • Synergized prayer and exercise, doing a lectio divina on Psalm 35 while taking a long, vigorous walk.
  • Evening Prayer in my chair.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thursday

Up, packed, fed, and out of the Doubletree in the Riverplace section of Jacksonville around 0845. Rode the interesting elevated transit system (well-built, and free, but not very extensive) across the river to downtown, then waked about five blocks to St John's Cathedral for the customary Requiem Mass for departed friends and benefactors of the Living Church Foundation at 0930. The members of the foundation then convened across the street in the offices of the Diocese of Florida for the annual meeting of the corporation. We transacted necessary business until breaking for lunch at 12:30. The afternoon session was devoted to a discussion of what transpired at General Convention. I stepped at 3:10 to call a Lyft and head to the airport. Everything went according to schedule and I arrived home at about 7:15.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday

To St John's, the cathedral of the Diocese of Florida, for 0900 Morning Prayer. Then met with the board (of which I am the secretary) of the Living Church Foundation until 2:30. Availed myself of the rest of the free afternoon for a long and vigorous walk along the south bank of the St John River. Cleaned up, handled a few emails, and reported to a restaurant for the dinner for foundation members. The foundation meeting is tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

St James of Jerusalem

A few personal chores and errands in the morning, then a day of travel. Left the apartment at 1145 and arrived at O'Hare at 1:00, taking public transit. Caught the 2:05 departure for Jacksonville, FL, where we arrived around 5:15 local time. Took of Lyft with two Living Church Foundation board colleagues for a scheduled 6:00 dinner with board members who were already in the area. It was a luminous time of conversation and camaraderie. Work starts tomorrow.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXII Pentecost)

It was a leisurely start to the day, as the liturgy at St Luke's, Springfield wasn't until 1030. But what a celebration it was. We dedicated a new stained-glass window in memory of a beloved parishioner. A dozen or so family members were there, along with the artist and her husband. There were over 80 in attendance, and there was a wonderful spirit in the room. We confirmed an adult, and I got to preach on an obscure passage from II Timothy (we kept the parish's patronal feast, rather than Proper 24). Brenda and I hit the road at 1:15, and were home in Chicago a crisp 3.5 hours later.

Sermon for St Luke's Day (observed)

St Luke's, Springfield--II Timothy 4:5-13

Have you ever heard it said about someone that they “love humanity but can’t stand people?” That’s kind of a problem, because we have people all around us, and we interact with them every day. Our lives are filled by daily contact with others. There are exceptions, of course. From time to time we might hear about a genuine recluse—who is usually rich, because it takes money to be reclusive! And we usually label such people as at least “eccentric” if not full-on “crazy.” Even those who live alone have relationships. They may be casual relationships, but even if they’re casual, most everyone has several such casual relationships. Social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and all the others that are out there—social media have only amplified and magnified our connectedness with other people. You don’t even need to leave the house to have a stupid heated argument with a stranger!

In the midst of all this social interaction, though, it is still possible to feel lonely. A great many people will tell you, if they’re honest, that they feel alone—seriously, depressingly, alone—even those who come across to the world as outgoing and friendly. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t speculate as to why this is. I just know it to be true.

And many of those who feel alone experience their aloneness in a particularly dark tone. They feel themselves to have been abandoned by one or more people whom they had counted on to “be there” for them—a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a colleague. This is an especially cruel and crushing experience of loneliness.

St Paul himself—the great evangelist, pastor, teacher, leader, and theologian—St Paul himself bears witness to this very experience as he writes to his protégé, Timothy. Paul is a prisoner in Rome, where he would eventually be put to death during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero. After some words of encouragement and motivation for Timothy (“always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”)—after these words of encouragement, Paul looks inward in a kind of hopeful way:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
And then, after being encouraging to Timothy and reflective about his own situation--then Paul indulges in what might be described as a bit of a pity party:
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.
Luke alone is with me. And this, of course, is why we have this reading appointed for today—the mention of Luke. Other than Paul’s personal references in his epistles, it is from Luke’s writings, in the last two-thirds or so of the Acts of the Apostles, that we know what we know about Paul’s conversion, about his missionary efforts, and about his eventual arrest, trial, and imprisonment.

There is undoubtedly an untold—and untold because it’s unknown—story about precisely why Paul felt he was deserted while he was imprisoned in Rome. We would like to think that he was welcomed warmly by the local Christian community when he arrived in the city as a “minimum security” prisoner, but this letter to Timothy is a sign that it may not have been the case. Could it be that the Christians in Rome had not appreciated Paul’s earlier long letter to them? Remember, Paul wrote what we now call the Epistle to the Romans—you know, one of the most important books in the Bible—before he had met any of its recipients personally. (Now, can you imagine not appreciating the epistle to the Romans? It is central to the way we think and speak about the gospel. But you never know.) Or could it be that the Roman Christians lacked the courage to face Nero’s anger, which could flare up violently at any time, so they left Paul alone for fear of provoking Nero? We’ll never really know, but, in any case, Paul felt alone. He felt abandoned. “Luke alone is with me.”

“Luke alone is with me.” One of the themes that Paul keeps coming back to over and over again in his writings is the utter faithfulness, the complete dependability, of God. As he wrote to the Romans themselves, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In his moment of abandonment as a prisoner in Rome, whether this was in jail or under house arrest, Luke was the medium of God’s faithfulness to Paul. Luke was the sign to Paul that God is faithful even when others around him were not. God is faithful to us, even when those around us are not.

“Luke alone is with me.” My pastoral challenge to you, as a eucharistic community under the patronage of St Luke, is to wrestle with this question: To whom can you be what Luke was to Paul, the one who was “there for him” in his time of aloneness and abandonment? Who needs you to “be Luke” for them, to be the sign of God’s caring presence, to be the reminder that God is faithful, even when those around them are not? Who might be in a position to say, “St Luke’s alone is with me?”

And if you are feeling especially alone and abandoned today, be on the lookout for your “Luke,” because God is indeed faithful even when those around us are not. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Saturday

  • Down from the Doubletree to the cathedral more or less on time for 0800 Morning Prayer, followed by a breakfast in the Great Hall catered by Bob Evans (whose biscuits & gravy I have come to esteem).
  • Called the synod back into session around 0910. We were adjourned before 1000.
  • Spend the next couple of hours back in my office, clearing some emails and other small items in my do-do list. Also met with Dean Hook for a bit un a substantive (but not synod-related) issue.
  • Back to the Doubletree with Brenda. Rested for a brief while (I felt uncommonly tired), the headed out to the west side for lunch a Popeye's, a movie (Bad Times at the El Royale), and a stop by the old empty home for a brief chore.
  • Returned to the hotel to chip away at more task list items, including lectionary reflection #22 of an eventual 30 for Forward Movement.
  • Drinks and dinner with Brenda with a spectacular view at the Pinnacle Club (30th floor of the Wyndham Hotel).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday (Henry Martyn)

  • Up and out of the Abraham Lincoln Doubletree with Brenda and down to the cathedral-office complex by around 0830.
  • Last minute consultations with the Archdeacon and the Administrator over the soon-to-begin diocesan synod.
  • Attended to some final details pertaining to the synod Mass. Flitted back and forth several times between the office, the cathedral, and the synod venue next door in the other direction.
  • Met with the Standing Committee at 1100 to seek their advice and counsel over a quite serious and immediately looming concern.
  • Stepped out with Brenda for some tacos down at a taco truck on South Grand.
  • Brought the gavel down on synod at 1:30. Recessed around 4:00, having accomplished about 95% of our total agenda.
  • Celebrated and preached the liturgy, keeping the lesser feast of Henry Martyn, who was certainly not "lesser" in his saintly witness.
  • Enjoyed the post-liturgical banquet, and retired back to the Doubletree, where I took about 30 minutes to meet with some folks about Cursillo.

Sermon for Diocesan Synod Mass

St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield--Isaiah 49:1-6, I Corinthians 9:16-23, Psalm 98:1-4, John 4:22-26

In some ways, this homily is going to be Part Two of the synod address that I just gave. In the serendipitous grace of the liturgical calendar, today is the lesser feast of Henry Martyn, who has a thing or two to teach us about commitment to and focus on the mission of the gospel.

Henry Martyn was born in 1781, which was not exactly a high-water mark in the history of the Church of England. Theology tended to be hazy, faith tended to be lukewarm, and devotion tended to be lax and shallow. Nonetheless, there were glowing embers scattered about, and young Henry came into contact with one of these embers when he went to study at Cambridge—a parish priest of uncommon evangelical zeal by the name of Charles Simeon. As a result of Simeon’s influence, Martyn turned his considerable gifts in both mathematics and the law toward service as a foreign missionary.

He was ordained deacon and priest, served as a curate for a while under his mentor Charles Simeon at Holy Trinity in Cambridge, and then took a position as a chaplain for the British East India Company—which was a somewhat ingenious strategy to become a missionary without technically becoming a missionary—leaving behind his family and the woman he had fallen in love with and whom he had not been able to persuade to marry him. During the ten months it took to travel from England to Calcutta, Martyn occupied himself with learning to read and write Urdu and Bengali. In addition to math and law, apparently, he had quite a facility for languages.

Martyn was 25 when he arrived in India in 1806, and served a chaplain in two locations over the next nearly five years. Although the duties for which we was paid involved ministering to the expatriate employees of the British East India Company, he reached out actively to the native population, and established connections with both Hindus and Muslims that were characterized by genuine mutual affection and respect. He was, of course, keen to introduce them to Jesus and to share the good news of the risen Christ with them in a compelling way. But he managed at the same time to avoid the pattern the many missionaries of that time fell into of regarding native peoples as inherently inferior. He in fact annoyed many of his fellow Brits by treating his Indian friends as equals, and seeking to understand especially Islam from a sympathetic, rather than antagonistic, point of view. Along the way, he translated the Book of Common Prayer, the entire New Testament, and the Psalms into Urdu, Arabic, and Persian. (It helps to know here that Persian was widely understood from India west all the way to Syria, which is quite a chunk of real estate.)

In 1810, when he was barely thirty years of age, Henry Martyn began to make his way back to England. His heart was pining away for the lady friend he had left behind, and he was resolved once again to persuade her to marry him and join him on the mission field. But he suffered from poor health—something that was then called consumption, but which we know now as tuberculosis. He had to take frequent periods of rest, and, even so, continued his work of evangelizing and translating as he traveled overland slowly, in fits and starts, across Iran and Iraq. He made it as far as Turkish Armenia, but died there at the tender age of 31 in October of 1812. The Armenian Christian community thought so highly of him that they gave him a burial with honors usually reserved for a senior bishop.

In the 49th chapter of Isaiah, the prophet is told that it is “too light a thing” that he announce the word of the Lord only to the house of Israel, but that is was called to be a light to the nations. Indeed, Henry Martyn became a light to the nations—more specifically, nationalities—both through his personal interaction and through his translating work. The Lord has called you and me to something slightly more modest—to be a light to central and southern Illinois. Surely the grace that equipped both the Prophet Isaiah and the missionary Henry Martyn for their work is also sufficient for us in ours.

St Paul talks about being “all things to all men that [he] might by all means save some.” Many in the history of Christian mission have imitated Paul in that, and certainly Henry Martyn may be numbered among them. He truly “moved into the neighborhood,” metaphorically pitching his tent in the midst of the camp of those whom he was impelled by the Holy Spirit to reach with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Can we catch this vision in the Diocese of Springfield? Just because most of the people around us speak English (though we should not forget that there are many who don’t) doesn’t mean we don’t have some “translating” to do. There are barriers of class, race, educational level, economic status, and culture that require the same sort of effort to transcend as Henry Martyn expended making the scriptures available in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian.

The Psalmist writes of the “victory of our God” being seen by “all the ends of the earth.” Henry Martyn was a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit toward that end, even in his brief life. He was given a massive beating heart for those who, like the Samaritan woman at the well, had gotten wind of a “Messiah” who would come to “teach [them] all things,” and who longed for the confident words of Jesus, “I who speak to you am he.” God’s unrelenting faithfulness is what drove and empowered Henry Martyn’s fruitful ministry. There were no happy endings involved; that much is obvious—not that we can yet see, at any rate. But Jesus offers us all the same deal—you, me, Henry Martyn. We are called to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves, to forget ourselves in order to know ourselves, and to be part of a rich harvest on the last day. Blessed Henry Martyn, pray for us. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

St Luke

  • Morning Prayer in my living room chair.
  • Responded at some length by email to some substantive concerns raised by some MLT members of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Took care of some routine personal financial chores that I have been putting off for several days.
  • Did some major reconstructive surgery on an old sermon text for Proper 25 (a week from Sunday at St Matthew's, Bloomington), making it usable for this go-round.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrote #21 of an eventual 30 lectionary meditations for Forward Day by Day. 
  • Performed the same sort of action on a "previously preached" All Saints homily as I had for Proper 25, this one to be delivered at Trinity, Mattoon on November 4.
  • Took a vigorous 6,500 step walk on a fine fall afternoon in Chicago.
  • Attended to some last-minute details pertaining to the synod Eucharist tomorrow afternoon.
  • Spoke by phone in a pastoral capacity with a cleric of the diocese.
  • Got myself and Brenda packed for three days in Springfield. Waited out the rush hour traffic by having dinner at a "southern cuisine" establishment about a mile from our home, then hit the road south. Arrived at the downtown Doubletree around 10:45.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday (Ignatius of Antioch)

The principal accomplishments of the day are evidenced by printouts of my synod address, my synod homily, and Sunday's homily (St Luke's, Springfield, keeping the patronal feast) are arrayed on the computer desk in my dining room. Now if I could only find where the paper clips got packed! There was also a brief shopping foray with Brenda in the early afternoon, and an evening spent getting books off the dining room table and onto shelves. Incremental progress continues.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday (Oxford Martyrs)

If last Tuesday got hijacked by finishing assembling my Ikea wardrobe (the completion of which has dramatically enhanced my quality of life), then today's culprit was the mountain of books that I spend yesterday unpacking and piling up on the dining room table. So today's mantra was sort, organize, and stow. I'd say the task is about 70% done I have a lot of books. I am one of those who finds it difficult to work amid chaos in the regular infrastructure of my life. In the evening, I did manage to install a new ink-jet printer. Again ... infrastructure.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXI Pentecost)

Up and out of my Mt Vernon hotel room in time to head south on I-57 and arrive at St Mark's in West Frankfort ahead of their regular 0900 liturgy. Presided, preached (the obligatory stewardship sermon), and enjoyed a post-liturgical potluck brunch. Then it was up to St James in McLeansboro, where I presided at the final Mass before the congregation closed in 2011. It was finally time to deconsecrate the building, which was in active use for more than 130 years. I was joined in this solemn task by Fr Bill Howard. Immensely sad. Got to our Chicago abode around 5:30.

Sermon for Proper 23

St Mark's, West Frankfort--Mark 10:17-31, Genesis 22:1-14, Romans 8:31-39

A mother and father and three children were driving home from church one Sunday. The father complained that the preacher used too many big words in his sermon. The mother complained that the choir sang off key. The oldest child didn’t care about any off-key singing; she just didn’t like any of the songs. All the middle child could say was, “It was borrrrring!” But the youngest child, apparently, was a natural optimist, and also quite observant, at least during the time when the offering plate was passed. He said, “Hey, I don ‘t understand what you all are complaining about. All five of us got in for only three bucks!”

Now, the purpose of my telling this story is not to increase the amount that is collected in offerings at St Mark’s today. But I bet you’ll think twice when the plate comes by, right? And maybe feel a little uncomfortable? Hearing talk about money in church makes us feel uncomfortable. And if you think it’s uncomfortable to hear about it, I guarantee you it’s uncomfortable to talk about it. Our discomfort stems from the impression that we’re getting into territory that is very private, very personal. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a subject that is more private and personal. Many among us will sooner share intimate details about our physical health and bodily functions with a relative stranger before we’ll discuss our finances with even a close friend. We are very guarded where money is concerned.

There are, no doubt, a number of complex reasons why we are so secretive in this area, and it’s not my intention to do anything like a thorough analysis of these reasons. I will suggest one, however, and that is the assumption—put simply—that “what’s mine is mine.” If I work an hour, that’s my time that I’m giving up. If I apply some particular skill or talent to that work, it’s my skill and my talent. If I’m paid a dollar for the work I do, it then becomes my dollar. If I spend fifty cents of that dollar on a pack of chewing gum, it’s my chewing gum. And if I give the other fifty cents away —ah, even then, I still think of it as mine, and expect a thorough accounting of how it’s used by whomever I gave it to. Particularly in our individualistic, capitalistic, North American culture, with the value it places on free enterprise and private property, the notion that “what’s mine is mine” seems part of the very air we breathe.

So when we begin to pay close attention to the life and teachings of Jesus, we get a little uncomfortable. We may not even consciously realize where the irritation is coming from, and try to place the blame all sorts of different places. But the fact is, Jesus challenges most of our fundamental assumptions about money and material wealth and financial responsibility. As St Mark tells the story in the tenth chapter of his gospel narrative, a man—a very wealthy man—approaches Jesus one day with a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man, apparently, had everything he could desire in this life, so now he felt like he could afford the luxury of turning his attention to the next life. It’s a direct and simple question, but Jesus gives a somewhat indirect and richer response. St Mark tells us that Jesus was moved with love for this man, so what he says should not be interpreted in any sort of cynical or sarcastic way.

First, he reminds the rich man of the Ten Commandments, as if to inquire (without actually doing so), “Well, have you kept them?” The man hears that implied question, and answers enthusiastically, “These? You talkin’ about these commandments? Heck, I’ve been keeping these commandments since I was a kid!” Perhaps he was beginning to think that he already had it made, that the price of admission to Eternal Life was something he was already carrying around in his hip pocket. If so, Jesus deflates him very quickly with Part Two of his answer to the original question: “OK, great. You’re almost there. Now there’s only one more thing you’ve got to do. Go, and sell everything you own, and give the money to the poor. You will then have inherited eternal life, and you can come and be one of my disciples.”

You can imagine the dead silence that fell over that conversation. We’re not told that the rich man said even one more word. Mark says that “his countenance fell.” He got a very sad look on his face and went away in deep sorrow. What Jesus asked him to do was too high a price to pay. Whether he earned his wealth, or inherited it, his attitude was doubtless one with which you and I are familiar, “What’s mine is mine.” But in his sorrow over his inability to bring himself to meet the stringent demand that Jesus had placed on him, the rich man missed the heart of what Jesus was saying to him: “Go, sell all you have ... then come and follow me. Be my disciple. Be close to me. Learn from me. Live with me. Selling your property is not an end in itself, it’s only a means to the end of becoming my disciple.”

Jesus’ point to the rich man, and his point to us, is that discipleship is vitally linked to stewardship. Being a friend of Jesus, being a follower of Jesus—in other words, being a Christian—means adopting a certain attitude toward all of our resources: money, time, skills, relationships, our bodies, whatever. Being a follower of Jesus means that I sit lightly toward that which I might be tempted to think of as “mine.” For some people, the demands of stewardship mean renouncing most, if not all, material wealth. There are those who are called to a life of holy poverty—whether formally in a religious community, or informally in the world. There are those for whom anything more than a minimal amount of money is spiritually dangerous. To be materially prosperous would imperil their immortal souls because it would draw them away from the love of God.

For most of us, however, renunciation is not a condition of good stewardship. We have the ability to handle a certain amount of wealth—the threshold is probably different for different people—without it having an adverse effect on us spiritually. It’s similar to our differing abilities to deal responsibly with alcoholic beverages: Most adults can drink in moderation, some need to place strict controls on when and where they imbibe, and some need to totally stay away from it, because if they don’t, it will completely wreck their lives.

This is a hard connection to make—this connection between stewardship and discipleship. It’s counterintuitive. We do not easily discern it. So, there are people who seem—to themselves and to others—very prayerful and devout, indeed, shining examples of Christian character. But their financial giving to the kingdom of God through His holy church is quite meager—perhaps not in actual dollar amount, but in proportion to their ability, in proportion to the resources with which they have been blessed.

We also see people who are very large givers, and who are relatively naive and unformed spiritually. Their prayer life is very rudimentary, and they understand very little of the things of the Lord. But for whatever reason, they have an impulse toward great generosity. In most cases, however, there are strings attached to this sort of giving. It tends to be designated giving, and can very easily become a subtle method of control. It is generosity, but it is not stewardship. And, by extension, it is not Christian discipleship either.

But when we make the connection, when the light bulb clicks on, when we “get it,” we have tapped into a startling source of spiritual energy and refreshment. The desire to “inherit eternal life” causes us to want to be disciples and friends of Jesus. And our desire to be a disciple then both invites us to adopt both the attitudes and practices of Christian stewardship, and gives us the power to actually do it. The bedrock practice of Christian stewardship is tithing—10% of after-tax income given to the local parish at whose altar we are regularly fed. I won’t deny that getting to the point of tithing is a stretch, often a painful stretch. But I’m not here to tell you to “give until it hurts.” For some of us, the very first penny hurts! What I’m saying is, Give until it stops hurting! Who wants to hurt all the time? Give beyond the pain. Increase your giving until it becomes a joy.

Yes, getting to the point of tithing is a painful stretch, but staying there is fun! It’s like climbing a mountain: The climb itself can be brutal, but the view from the summit is breathtaking, and you don’t want to go down. Only in this case, you don’t have to! I’ll tell you this for sure: To my knowledge, I’ve never met an ex-tither. Think about that.

If tithing is the principal practice of Christian stewardship, the principal attitude of Christian stewardship is the basic notion that we don’t own anything. Nothing. Everything we think is ours is in fact on loan from God, and must be at His complete disposal at all times. It’s a matter of trust, only you and I are not the beneficiaries of the trust, we are the trustees. We are the ones responsible for investing the corpus of the trust so that it will grow and multiply. The corpus of this trust is made up of our money, our time, and our abilities. We will eventually have to give an accounting for our trusteeship, for our stewardship. Our motto must be that of the community of Israel in the Old Testament book of I Chronicles, words which are quite familiar to most Anglicans: “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Organized my to-do list for the day.
  • Drove out to the west side for breakfast at IHOP.
  • Met a locksmith at my former residence on Illini Rod. He removed the piece of the key that I broke off in the front door like when I left four weeks ago. I then followed him to the shop to get a couple new keys cut.
  • Back to the office. Wrote lectionary reflection #20, out of an eventual 30, that will appear in November of next year in Forward Day by Day.
  • Kept an 1100am appointment with layperson for an initial conversation about discernment for ordination.
  • Back to the west side for lunch at Popeye's, followed by a haircut at Sport Clips
  • Processed some email and attended to a stack of chores via email, each of which was fairly small in itself, but added up to something substantial.
  • Headed out on a brisk walk, west to Spring, south to South Grand, east to Eighth Street, north (past the Lincoln home) to Adams, west to Second, and south back to the office.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drove down to Mt Vernon for the night, with a substantive pastoral conversation with a cleric of the diocese while en route.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday

Sometimes there's a day that just feels like it never gets traction. This was one of them, though I was probably objectively more productive than I felt. I did manage to get the YFNBmobile service (first scheduled maintenance), meet with a real estate agent to get my former home listed for sale, conduct an annual review with the Communications Coordinator, edit and refine my homily for this Sunday, write notes to clergy and spouses with November birthdays and anniversaries, respond to a slew of emails, process items in my physical inbox, consult with the Archdeacon on a range of items, spend some prayer time at the cathedral organ with the Hymnal 1940, pray both daily offices, and write #19 of an eventual 30 lectionary reflections for Forward Movement, and get over 12,00o steps on my Fitbit. So I guess it wasn't as bad as it felt.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday (St Philip the Deacon)

  • Usual (new) morning routine.
  • Made preliminary arrangements to list our Springfield house for sale. (It hasn’t rented yet.)
  • Spent the balance of the morning drafting my address to synod next week.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Ran some nearby errands (on foot) with Brenda.
  • Scanned and processed accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Took my homily for St Luke’s Day (October 21 at St Luke’s, Springfield) from “developed outline” to “rough draft.”
  • Evening Prayer in my living room chair,
  • Cooked and ate Chinese stir fry for dinner, then packed for the weekend and headed south in the YFNBmobile. Arrived in Springfield a few minutes before 11.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday (St Paulinus of York)

  • Morning Prayer in my living room. (The future chapel/oratory is still a staging area for other projects).
  • Did some remedial reconfiguring of my dining room computer desk/workspace area.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese over an emerging issue.
  • Emailed the president of the Standing Committee over the same emerging issue.
  • Spent the rest of the morning, and part of the afternoon on the three-or-four-times-a-year task of master sermon planning--in this case, from Advent Sunday through the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This involves looking over material from prior years and deciding which can be shined up for reuse and which occasions demand something entirely fresh, and then accordingly assigning various tasks to various dates. This is time-consuming, but necessary.
  • Stepped out to Subway (about 2.5 blocks away) for a lunchtime sandwich.
  • Took a long and brisk walk on what is probably the last decently warm day of the season. The number of available routes boggles the mind.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the synod Eucharist, keeping the lesser feast of Henry Martyn.
  • Evening Prayer in the temporarily usual place.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tuesday (Robert Grosseteste)

Getting settled into the new order of things is a fits-and-starts endeavor. Today was mostly fits. The project of constructing a wardrobe (i.e. the free-standing closet variety) from an Ikea kit has been a black hole for time and energy. The good news is that , as of late this afternoon (and after a third trip to Ikea in Schaumburg) is that the project is complete, and my wardrobe (as in the collection-of-clothing variety) is now appropriately organized and stowed. This breaks a the getting-settled logjam, as now we can focus on getting books out of boxes and onto (presently inadequate) shelves, which will then allow us to unpack the wall art and get some of it hung (we have more than we can use). And so it goes. I did manage to pray both the morning and evening offices, and respond to a few emails. Despite the time-consuming frustrations, I'm going to bed grateful. This was a big hump to get over.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Lord's Day (XX Pentecost)

  • Up early enough in my Marion hotel room to get a little Master Sermon Planning (Advent I-Epiphany Last) done before I had to be on the road.
  • Read Morning Prayer in my room, then walked over to Bob Evans for breakfast.
  • Headed west on IL-13 to Harrisburg in time for their regular 1000 liturgy. Confirmed two adults in addition to presiding and preaching. Joined the usual outstanding post-liturgical repast.
  • Pointed the YFNBmobile northward right at noon, arriving home in Chicago at 5:30 (around 350 miles). In general, the first extended weekend of physical presence in the diocese worked quite well.

Sermon for Proper 22

St Stephen's, Harrisburg--Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-9

I’ve always been glad I married young, because the whole dating scene just produces so much anxiety. If I were young and single again, I would almost certainly sign up for one of those online matchmaking services. Have you seen those TV commercials? It looks so appealing, I almost wish I could try it! A grandfatherly man with a warm voice and smile gives the sales pitch, while young and beautiful couples go on and on about how they found their perfect soul mate. It looks like it would remove much of the stress and anxiety that I dimly remember from my college years.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” This was the Lord’s “note to self” as he looked at Adam lying there in the dust from which he had been created. So God created a female companion for the man—mysteriously like him in many important ways and at the same time unlike him in some very important ways. This prehistoric account is the seedbed of some of the most profound realities of our human experience—the mystery that we are separate, yet connected; the mystery that we are the same, yet different; the mystery that even when we can’t live with each other, neither can we live without each other.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” Human beings are created for relationship the way fish are created to swim, the way hammers are made to pound nails and books are written to be read. Genesis tells us that we are created in the very image and likeness of God, and this need and ability to be in relationship is a big part of that image and likeness. Yes, there are hermits in the world, even Christian hermits. But Christian hermits are still members of a community, and they join that community, at least on Sundays, for the celebration of the Eucharist. And, yes, there are recluses and loners. But these people are virtually by definition labeled abnormal, or even crazy.

We all instinctively avoid loneliness. Even introverts—and I speak as an introvert—even introverts want to be with certain people some of the time! Even shy people are not anti-social; they crave company more than anyone. Even criminals usually work in groups, and sometimes have great affection for one another in those groups, and even observe a certain code of ethics; you know the expression, “Honor among thieves”?  Thinking theologically, I believe we can say that the experience of loneliness is itself part of what we call the Fall, the realm of sin and death. Since it departs from the order of Creation, loneliness is part of the alliance of spiritual forces that rebel against God, and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God—things that we renounce whenever we renew our baptismal vows.

“It is not good for the man to be alone.” God does not want us to be lonely. So he created a woman to form a relationship, to be a companion with the man he had made from the dust of the earth. The relationship they formed serves as the prototype for what we now know as marriage. Marriage, in fact, is a sign of God’s desire that we not be alone. And please note where in the sweep of the biblical story we find the gift of marriage—right at the beginning. As soon as there is a man and a woman, there’s marriage. Marriage is presented to us not as a mere human institution, a social construct that evolved over time and can potentially outlive its usefulness or evolve into something else as human society changes. Rather, marriage is presented to us as something fundamental. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking him about divorce, he responds, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and for this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, etc. etc.…”. From the beginning of creation. We talk about the “bonds” of matrimony, not in the sense of shackles, but in the sense of security, creating a “safe” place for two people to completely reveal themselves to one another, to be utterly transparent, for two to become “one flesh.” So marriage is a sign. A sign points not to itself, but to something beyond itself, in this case, a deeper reality. Marriage is a sign of God’s desire to combat human loneliness and to call all people into a transparent relationship with Himself.

That’s a rather astonishing fact, when you actually think about it. But right away, at least two complications present themselves. First, not everyone is called to marriage. Some are called to celibacy, which is intentional, consecrated, singleness, singleness for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Others are emotionally broken in some way and have difficulty forming a stable bond with another person. Some just never seem to find the right other person. Others simply lack the desire. Others still have been married, but have lost a spouse. Such people are not abandoned by God, or consigned to loneliness. God’s anti-loneliness initiative isn’t confined to married people. Remember, marriage is a sign of God’s provision for loneliness; it is not itself the provision. For those who are not called to marriage, God has other creative ways of combating loneliness and ministering to the need for companionship.

The second complication is that many who do get married are not capable of sustaining the commitment. There are a lot of different reasons for this, and we could spend the rest of the day talking about them. Jesus attributes it to “hardness of heart,” and I think that may be a pretty good summary of the reasons most marriage that don’t last don’t last. But in any case, sometimes marriages just die, and they need to be amputated the way a diseased arm or leg is amputated when it threatens the health of the rest of the body. It may be necessary, but it’s always tragic, and always a sign of the power of sin and death in human experience.

Marriage can be a wondrous experience of God’s provision and love for those who are called to it and receive the grace to sustain their commitment, though it’s never easy, and all marriages are flawed in some way because the people in them are flawed. But even for those who are not called to marriage, and for those who have heard the call but fallen short in their attempts to respond, it is still a sign that God understands—indeed, God has decreed—that it is “not good” that we should be alone.

In the classic fairy tale of Hansel & Gretel, the children leave a trail of bread crumbs as they make their way deeper and deeper into the forest, hoping that those same crumbs will, in time, lead them out of the forest and back home. Marriage—both the concept of marriage, and the actual marriages that human beings are involved in—marriage is a sign that all of our relationships—marriages, families, friends, companions—all our relationships are like Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs. They lead us into relationship with God, a relationship that is transparent and intimate, and which alone shows us our true selves. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.