Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday (Ss Timothy & Titus)

  • If I get home from a trip right at bedtime, as I did last night, I still need a winding down period (usually in front of some non-mentally demanding TV) before I can actually go to bed. So I allowed myself a bit of extra time this morning to get up and going. In the office around 9:30.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral chapel.
  • Responded to one of our clergy over an administrative issue having to do with the effect of one of our new canons.
  • Reached out by phone to Mother Beth Maynard, rector of Emmanuel, Champaign, where they've had quite a week. She reports that the odor of smoke in the church and parish hall has been successfully ameliorated, and they are planning a full slate of activities for the weekend. #couldhavebeenmuchworse
  • Dealt with two more financial/administrative issues: one having to do with our companion diocese of Tabora, and the other having to do with getting some training for our diocesan exorcist, Fr Andy Hook.
  • Back to draining a small administrative swamp that has consumed a bit of my time each of the last three days. You can tell it's getting serious when I create a spreadsheet, because spreadsheets really aren't my thing.
  • Home for lunch: leftovers.
  • Kept a 1:15 physical therapy appointment. This young lady has, I think, done wonders for me in three visits.
  • Back at home for the afternoon: checked in online for a flight Brenda and I are boarding tomorrow morning.
  • Took care of a small task related to the upcoming clergy retreat.
  • Dealt with a request for a change in my visitation calendar.
  • Spent the rest of the day working on getting ready for a small "holiday" Brenda and I are taking together (in a warm climate) for the next week. So I'll be going dark in this venue until Saturday, February 3. See you on the other side.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Conversion of St Paul

  • Began the day with a brisk treadmill workout.
  • Task planning at home, MP in the cathedral.
  • Got to work signing and sealing the certificate for tonight's ordination. Took four passes with the hot wax, and one was plenty good enough.
  • Read and responded to an email from the Bishop of Tabora.
  • Devoted more time to an ongoing bit of administrivia that seems to be getting more complex the harder we try to resolve it.
  • Spent about 90 minutes with a commentary on Mark's gospel, focusing on the Passion narrative, all in service of developing a homily for Palm Sunday.
  • Home for lunch on the late side. Leftovers.
  • Registered online for a Communion Partners meeting late next month.
  • Processed a short stack of late-arriving email.
  • Out the door at 3:00 for points east.
  • Met at St John's, Decatur with Fr Mike Newago. Routine check-in regarding his work as Mission Strategy Developer.
  • Presided over a rehearsal, then the liturgy itself. Got Christine Gregory duly ordained to the diaconate, a truly joyful occasion.
  • Home around 9:45.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. MP in the cathedral. Apprised the Archdeacon of last nights could-have-been-so-much-worse fire at Emmanuel, Champaign.
  • Tied down some dangling travel arrangements.
  • Attended to two items that have been in my task system for a long time but have always gotten triaged out on any given day. I've gotten tired of seeing them keep popping up. Both involved small favors for a lay person--one inside the diocese and one outside.
  • Sat with my notes on the readings for Lent III until they gave birth to a homiletical message statement (an indicative mood statement of good news, without any subordinate clauses, negatives, or imperatives--it's a discipline that has served me well). This is in preparation for preaching at St Andrew's, Carbondale on March 4.
  • Began my routine monthly project of writing notes to clergy with nodal evens in the following calendar month.
  • Took an early lunch at home (leftovers) in order to keep a 12:30 physical therapy appointment (back issues). Home for a bit of email processing before heading to a 2:00 *psycho*-therapy appointment. A healing day for body and mind!
  • Back in the office: Finished the note-writing task I'd started before lunch. Writer's cramp.
  • Attended to some work in preparation for General Convention.
  • Looked over a financial report from the Society of King Charles the Martyr (I'm on the board).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tuesday (Phillips Brooks)

  • Task planning over breakfast at home.
  • Briefed the Archdeacon on some of the interesting factoids of my weekend with Ordinariate Catholics in Houston.
  • Confirmed with the Dean that we are on the cathedral's calendar for the Chrism Mass on March 24.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a request from two of our "communities" that are not going to be quite "eucharistic" on Epiphany IV and Epiphany V, for homilies of mine that might be read on those occasions when they gather for Morning Prayer. In this context, I did what I was already needing to do anyway, and did some relatively minor but significant surgery on an old homily text for Epiphany V to make it usable at St John's, Decatur on February 4.
  • Dealt with some administrative and financial details on behalf of a couple of our congregations that are experiencing a pastoral hiatus.
  • Reviewed and responded to a draft plan for the celebration of Emmanuel, Champaign's centennial of their building this coming May.
  • Wrote a pastoral check-in email to one of our clergy who has had a rough month.
  • Reviewed and commented on a rough draft of a liturgy plan for the clergy retreat.
  • Took a phone call from my Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Paprocki. We set up a lunch date.
  • Burnt ends from HyVee for lunch, eaten at home.
  • Kept an appointment with my estate planning attorney.
  • Responded by email to a letter informing me of a case of serious sexual abuse (against the author of the letter) by a cleric of diocese several decades ago. The perpetrator is deceased. I assured him of our profound sorrow over what happened, and that he is indeed heard.
  • Read and responded by email to a long and substantive letter from a lay person of the diocese seeking some pastoral care.
  • Reviewed by visitations for the coming month, and created appropriate e-reminders about being in touch with the clergy involved.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Went to church a lot today. Brenda and I attended the 9am liturgy at St Martin's, Houston, to make our communion. (This is the largest parish in the Episcopal Church, and includes among its members former President George and Barbara Bush, all they were not at that service!). Then, we were at the 11:15 High Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham, the cathedral church for the (Roman Catholic) Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. The liturgy of the Ordinariate (a sort of non-geographic diocese) is an amalgam from a number of different Anglican sources, the Hymnal 1940 was in the pew racks, and all the music had an Anglican style. Lunch was spent catching up with a former Episcopal priest I have known, now about to be an Ordinariate priest. Brief down time, then back to OLW for an exceptionally fine choral evensong (Stanford in C, for those in the know), at which I was privileged to be the preacher. Caught up during the reception with my Nashotah classmate Fr Michael LaRue and Fr Trey Garland, whom I had never met in the flesh. Then, wonderful Argentinian dinner with Fr Timothy Perkins and his wife Jody, and Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate. A fine and memorable day.

Homily at Choral Evensong for Epiphany III

Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston--Micah 4:1-7, John 9:1-41

I bring you greetings from the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Springfield: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I am delighted to be with you here in this cathedral church, to renew a friendship of more than thirty years with your Vicar General, and to make the acquaintance of Bishop Lopes, about whom I have heard so many fine things.

We are here during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is an ecumenical observance that is now more than 100 years old. Its origin can be traced to a Catholic Franciscan religious community, the Graymoor Friars of the Atonement, whose founder established the community while he was yet a priest in the Episcopal Church. Very early on, the Graymoor Friars discerned working toward church unity as their primary charism. One aspect of their apostolate is to operate the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, and it was my privilege to attend a retreat there in October 2016, part of which was hosted in that facility.

It’s not hard to develop a passion for reconciliation among Christian communities, because the case for it is so compelling. Only recently, I wrote to my own diocese: “The number of distinct ‘brand names’ of Christian bodies is staggering. It numbers in the tens of thousands. Given the manifest will of Jesus in his prayer ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21), this reality ought to be scandalous beyond imagination. Yet, it isn’t. Instead, we have normalized a situation that we don’t see any hope of changing.”

There has certainly been substantial progress. Within my lifetime, Catholics and non-Catholics were discouraged from even entering one another’s church buildings, and now, here we are—at least one Anglican, although I suspect I’m not the only one here, and a community of Roman Catholics who worship in the Anglican tradition, full-throatedly singing the praises of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in this marvelous choral evensong.

Yet, that very progress, which sometimes feel like it came too easily, has led us to a place where we’ve come 80% of the way with 20% of the effort, and now we have only 20% of the way left to go, but with 80% of the effort required, and we don’t know that we have the energy within us. It feels daunting—indeed, at times, futile. It’s tempting to declare partial victory and leave the whole thing alone.

We can’t do that. Jesus doesn’t want us to do that. If I may be so bold, Our Lady of Walsingham doesn’t want us to do that! The imperative of full reconciliation means that we remain in each other’s faces, on one another’s radar screens. We keep talking. We keep praying. We don’t give up. With a veritable Churchillian resolve, we never give up. If the difficulties seem insurmountable, we keep on keeping on. We resist the temptation to paper over differences. We speak the truth as we understand it. We emphatically do not “agree to disagree.” We keep saying, “Yes, but …” We remain urgently patient, and patiently urgent. We persist. Because nothing is more important. Because the integrity of the gospel itself is at stake. We live and breathe a hermeneutic of ecumenism. Again, as I recently wrote to my own diocese: “A hermeneutic is a fundamental interpretive framework, the default lens through which we mentally process the stream of data on a particular subject. At the close of 2018’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, my hope is that I, and anyone whom I might influence, will adopt a hermeneutic of ecumenism in what we say, in what we write, and in how we pray. This implies a default preference for ecumenism in our thinking and in our ecclesiastical discourse, the way we talk to one another. It means we train ourselves to unfailingly ask the question, What are the ecumenical implications if we do X or Y? And if doing X or Y will have an adverse ecumenical impact, we probably then decide not to do X or Y, even if, in our own internal life, it seems right and good. This is what it means to ‘seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions’ (BCP, p. 818).”

We have a stirring reading this evening from the Prophet Micah. He writes to an Israelite community in exile. They have hung up their harps and left Jerusalem to sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon. They didn’t see how they could possibly be who and what God intended them to be. But his words are words of encouragement:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and we may walk in his paths.”

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;

I was immediately struck, when I read this, how, in this enduring era of major schism among Christian communities, dating back to 1054 with the East-West split, with a booster shot beginning 500 years ago in what is known as the Reformation—this long season of schism might fruitfully be seen to correspond to Israel’s period of exile: We cannot really be who and what God intends us to be. We lean forward into our reconciled future, grasping toward the vision of God’s holy mountain, confident that this is what God wills.

So, even as we are in a season that some have called an “ecumenical winter,” we await the inevitable coming of spring, in God’s good time. We walk this period of exile together, as pilgrims to God’s holy mountain, daily repenting, daily laboring to beat our polemical swords into plowshares of communion in the holy things of God. I experienced this as a sort of enacted parable, as I walked the ancient pilgrim route across northern Spain to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela year before last. As you might imagine, there aren’t many Anglican churches along the Camino—actually, none. On many occasions, I attended Mass in a cathedral or parish church or monastery chapel, with a lot of the singing, perhaps not surprisingly, in Latin, using either traditional plainsong tunes, or music in the TaizĂ© tradition, and, as it happens, I’m pretty comfortable in liturgical Latin, so I substantially helped carry the singing at times. When it came time for the sharing of our Lord’s Body and Blood, of course, I remained in place, and gratefully received what turned out to be some very rich experiences of spiritual communion. Still, there was pain—pain at not being able to take it to the next level of visible sacramental fellowship.

That pain was put into perspective a little later in the journey, as I encountered a group of pilgrims from the Canadian prairie. I called them “Judith and Her Companions,” because there was one woman and four men. One of them, Judith’s brother, in fact, joked with me that they were “reverse Mormons.” Well, it turned out that the one making that joke was the Catholic bishop of Saskatoon, and Archbishop-elect of Regina. He and I talked shop for several miles over the course of three or four days. As it happens, he’s the Catholic co-chair of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCUM), and he and I have several friends and acquaintances in common, so … small world. It was a rather precious time of communion in the gospel, and of mutual support and encouragement in ministry. And it is precisely encounters like that one that fuel my passionate hermeneutic of ecumenism, because while I know that Archbishop Bolen and I will not in this world stand at the same altar and celebrate the eucharistic banquet together, my prayer remains that our successors may one day do so.
Now, circle back with me, if you will, to the conclusion of that passage from Micah:
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant.
The lame who have been driven away. The lame will make the remnant. The lame will be the ones who experience the holy mountain of reconciliation. The lame will be the ones who get to use those new plowshares that used to be swords.

And, holding that in mind, we get this from John’s gospel, from the familiar story of the man born blind that we usually encounter in Year A in the Lenten lectionary cycle at Mass, one of the cornerstone texts of the ancient catechumenate. After all the drama had died down and Jesus is debriefing with the main characters, he says:
“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
Now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains. Blessed are the lame in Micah, and now, in John, apparently, blessed are the blind. I know these readings come simply from the office lectionary for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, but could there be a God thing going on with how they fall right during a time when we’re renewing our energy around unity? Could it be that ecumenism is the work of the lame and the blind? Could it be that the necessary ecumenical attitude is one in which we recognize and name our own brokenness, our own incompleteness, without one another?

It’s easy for churches that have a natural interest in things like sacramental integrity and historic church order to really want to work things out between one another, as I’m sure most Roman Catholics and Anglicans do. And it’s not like the sticking points between us are not very, very sticky. But what about, say, a community of snake handlers in West Virginia who can say without reservation, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and baptize new members in trinitarian Name, and who may never have heard of the Definition of Chalcedon, but might not have any objection to it if you lay it out to them? How are we incomplete by not being in communion with them? Can we, lame and blind as we are, aspire to reach even that far? Can our preferential option for ecumenism include even them? If so, we will need to acknowledge that, without them, we, with whatever progress we make or don’t make among Roman Catholics and Anglicans, we will remain broken, incomplete, until they, and—who knows?—maybe even their snakes, are with us singing the eternal Sanctus at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saturday (St Fabian)

A day of travel: Out the door, packed, with Brenda, around 0900. Caught the 1030 United Express to Chicago, then on to Houston, where we landed at 4:00. Picked up our rental car and made our way to the Crowne Plaza Galleria, where there was a room waiting for us. Got settled, then headed over to the home of our dear and longtime friends, Fr Timothy Perkins and his wife Jody (joined by their daughter Clare and their granddaughter Elise). Fr Perkins is now the Vicar General (kind of like Canon to the Ordinary) of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a diocese-like structure for Roman Catholics who worship in the Anglican tradition. They've invited me to preach at a Choral Evensong tomorrow at their cathedral.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday (St Wulfstan)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some last-minute travel details pertaining to my trip (with Brenda) to Houston this weekend for a preaching engagement. It was time-consuming.
  • We plan on receiving a former Roman Catholic priest as a priest of the Episcopal Church next month (not for service in this diocese ... it's complicated). It turns out there is no clearly available liturgical form for doing this, so I had to do a deep dive into the Prayer Book and the Book of Occasional Services, and consult some online contacts, and talk with the Archdeacon, before a plausible solution emerged. But we now have the broad strokes plotted.
  • Met with one of our clergy, who dropped by on other business, but it turned into a substantive conversation.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Took Brenda to get her driver's license renewed.
  • Spent quality time with a commentary on John's gospel in preparation for preaching on Lent III (March 4 at St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Routine scanning of whole bunch of accumulated hard copy.
  • Short form Evening Prayer on the way home.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Confession of St Peter

  • Customary treadmill workout at home, first thing. Task planning over breakfast. Short form MP in the car.
  • Listened to three voicemail messages--one on my cell, and two on the office landline, which is a comparative rarity--and left voicemail replies on all three. Telephone tag.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon and the Administrator on some things.
  • Got to work refining the text of my sermon for this Sunday evening at a Choral Evensong in Houston.
  • Took a scheduled phone call with one of our clergy.
  • Attended Mass for the feast day.
  • Kept a physical therapy appointment (my back).
  • Very late lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Finished the work I started in the morning on the Ecumenical Evensong sermon.
  • Took a substantive and long phone call from a priest outside the diocese seeking pastoral care. This ran so late that Evening Prayer fell through the cracks, as was on a hard deadline to be home by 6:00.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday (St Antony)

Enjoyed my "room with a view" at the Nicholas Center in the "River North" area of Chicago. Morning Prayer in nextdoor St James' Cathedral. The Province V bishops concluded our business around 11:30, having discussed, inter alia, Title IV (of course), and issues likely to cause heartburn at General Convention. IMO, there were significant baby steps toward the kinds of communication habits that we need to cultivate more of. After stripping and re-making my bed, I stowed my luggage in the reception area downstairs, then hoofed it through the cold to the Opera House (a pretty good jaunt), stopping at Portillo's for Italian beef along the way. Enjoyed the Lyric's production of Turandot. Magnificent, actually. Walked back up to the Nicholas Center (about 30 minutes), grabbed my stuff, and called an Uber to take me to Union Station. Traffic was gridlocked, but the driver managed to get me there. Grabbed a bite in the food court and caught the 7:00pm Lincoln Service for Springfield. arriving a touch before 10:30.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday

  • Up and out to the Amtrak station in time catch the 0632 northbound to Chicago. But, because a freight train collided with an unoccupied vehicle just south of Springfield, we didn't pull away from the station until 0915. So ... lots of waiting. 
  • Morning Prayer in the Amtrak station.
  • Once aboard, I connected to the wifi and was able to work. Attended to a few questions from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities, moved the ball down the field in preparation for next week's ordination of a deacon, sent out an email blast to the clergy about the upcoming pre-Lenten retreat.
  • Arrived at Union Station, grabbed a sandwich for a quick lunch, then caught a taxi to the Nicholas Center, a conference facility on the top floor of the Diocese of Chicago's office building.
  • Spent the afternoon and evening with colleague bishops from Province V. We discussed issues around this year's General Convention, the Church Pension Fund, and best practices of providing pastoral ministry in small congregations. We'll pick up where we left off in the morning.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Warm time on a cold morning with the folks at Christ Church, Springfield. Really lively adult forum, which included some nice catechesis time with the four confirmands (three youths and an adult). I preached from I Samuel about the importance of knowing the Lord. Then, after getting home, while changing clothes, I suddenly developed very attention-getting lower back pain. After trying for a while to "walk it out," I yielded to Brenda's entreaties and headed to the all-too-familiar Priority Care clinic. X-ray was negative, a shot to torodol helped, and now I have a prescription for hopped-up ibuprofen and a muscle relaxant. One theory is that this is a delayed development after my fall on the ice a week ago. Hmmm.

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ Church, Springfield--I Samuel 3:1-20

Father Kevin Martin is a retired priest in Texas with decades-long experience as a congregational development consultant. I used to look at his online newsletter from time to time; more recently it’s a Facebook group. He once listed several convictions that he believes are essential to congregational health and growth. One of them was this: “Boring people is a sin.” For some reason, that got my attention. Do I bore people with my preaching? Do we bore people with our worship in the congregations of the Diocese of Springfield? Is Christ Church boring? I’m not the one to answer those questions, of course, but I certainly try not to be boring. And I take the question seriously, because I really hate being bored myself, as most people do. There are a number of things that have the potential to bore me. Even as a “religious professional,” certain religious attitudes and practices have the capacity to bore me intensely. (It’s one of the reasons I became an Episcopalian 45 years ago; I’d found a way to actually make going to church fun!)  And what I find most boring is watered-down, toothless, harmless, gutless Christianity. I am bored beyond tears by any vision of Christianity that reduces it to a bare minimum, a vague sense that we should believe in God, be as nice as we can to people, and volunteer for a few things before we die.

Unfortunately, this describes the way many people understand their involvement with the church and with Christian religious practice. Even if we know better, and even if we would never think it or say it directly, in actual practice we reduce the creed to its first article: “I believe in God.” All the rest is considered to be optional or incomprehensible, or both. We reduce Christian discipleship to trying our best to be good people, in a generic sense, and, for extra credit, trying to do something concrete to make the world a better place. This invariably results, however, in deep frustration arising from a lack of a sense of purpose in life, a lack of a sense of mission and direction.

We get ourselves all in a twist trying to do what we think must be “God’s work on earth.” And they’re good things—don’t get me wrong. Feeding the hungry and housing the homeless and educating the illiterate and solving conflicts and preventing violence are all good things. They’re good things and God approves of them. Believing in God and being nice and “making the world a better place” are not bad things, and we should be doing them. We just should not be thinking that this is the heart of Christianity, because it’s not.

Yet, in thinking that it is, we’re in good company, historically speaking. Back in the days of ancient Israel, before they had a king—we’re talking maybe 1200 BC—before there was a king in Israel, before there was a temple in Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant—the sign of God’s presence with His people—was kept for a time in a shrine at Shiloh, and attended by a priest named Eli, who was assisted by his two sons and, in time, by a young apprentice—a child, actually—named Samuel. Eli was just trying to faithfully and inconspicuously do “God’s work on earth,” taking care of the shrine and attending to the needs of those who came to worship there. His sons were lazy and corrupt, but Eli plugged along, and Samuel helped him.

Yet, as the biblical writer tells the story, there’s a pervasive gloom that’s hard to shake. We are told that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” It may not have been the worst of times, but it certainly wasn’t the best of times. The absence of the word of the Lord, the absence of frequent visions, must have made things, not only around Shiloh but through all of Israel, rather dull, rather lifeless, rather . . . boring. Now, the story, as we heard it read a few minutes ago, is not really about Eli, is it? It’s about the young boy Samuel. Samuel hears a voice calling him in the night. He thinks it’s Eli, but it’s not; it’s the Lord. But Samuel doesn’t recognize the voice of the Lord, because, as the author tells us, “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” Without a living personal relationship with and knowledge of God, Samuel was not equipped to recognize the voice of God when God called him. Without a living personal relationship with and knowledge of God, you and I are not equipped to recognize the voice of God when God is calling us. We just plod ahead out of formal institutional momentum, doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing, and more often than not, bored out of our minds.

Most of you may remember the TV series The West Wing. I was pretty much addicted to it in the last three or four years of its run, and watched the seasons I had missed on DVD. In the classic years of the series, the main characters, senior members of the White House staff, were consistently passionate in their devotion to the president at whose pleasure they served. They knew him. They knew him as a person, not just as a president. They didn’t just know about him, they knew him. And that personal knowledge enabled them to stretch themselves and push themselves and work harder than they ever thought possible in order to serve that president. And they were never bored for a second! At the same time, many other people in the country were of the same party as the president, and largely shared the same views as the president. But they could hardly have been expected to be nearly as passionate in their effort and zeal on behalf of the president as were those who knew him personally and interacted with him daily. They only knew about President Bartlett; they didn’t actually know President Bartlett. The quality of knowledge makes all the difference in the world.

The third time Samuel comes to Eli in the night saying, “Were you calling me, boss?”, Eli finally figures out what’s going on. He says to Samuel, “Next time you hear the voice, son, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” The rest, as they say, is history. On that night, Samuel got to know the Lord, and the word of the Lord came to him in a powerful way, and he was given a job to do, and he went on to become the greatest prophet in Israel’s early history. Your vocation and mine may not be quite so auspicious, but we won’t be in a position to even know until we come to “know the Lord.” Only then are we in a position to be able to hear his voice, to discern his will for us with some clarity.

When we know the Lord, when God is an everyday reality in our lives—a living reality, not a hypothetical construct—it’s like having a cell phone with five bars on the signal strength meter; we can hear loud and clear. When we come to know the Lord, we realize that a personal daily “walk with Christ” is more than vaguely “believing in God.”  When we come to know the Lord, we realize that our main calling as a Christian is to become holy, and becoming holy is a whole lot more than being nice. When we come to know the Lord, we realize that Jesus wants us to be his disciples, his followers, and that discipleship is infinitely more demanding than volunteer work. When we come to know the Lord, the stage is set for something tremendously fruitful and infinitely satisfying, and sometimes even exciting and practically never boring. The Lord tells Samuel, “I am about to do a thing in Israel, at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle.” How my inadequate pastor’s heart wishes we could hear that message and substitute “Diocese of Springfield” and “Christ Church” for “Israel.” “I am about to do a thing in the Diocese of Springfield—at Christ Church, at St Paul’s Cathedral, at St Luke’s—at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle.” What might happen if we, together, were to say to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servants hear?”  What might God accomplish in us and through us if we were united in our desire for the Lord to reveal to us and empower us for the specific mission to which He calls us at this time in our history? The thought makes these two ears, at least, tingle with excitement.

I invite you to join me in some prayerful listening. I’ll be even more specific: The vision that I believe God has given me as bishop is that the three congregations that are in the city of Springfield—the cathedral, Christ Church, and St Luke’s—will be moved to come together in prayer and in dedication to the gospel, to coordinate the work of mission in this city and in Sangamon County. I realize that there is a long list of reasons, about 130 years of reasons, why this is an audacious and daunting vision. But the Lord is calling us, as he called the boy Samuel. My prayer is that our collective response will be, “Speak, Lord, for your servants hear.” And then let us listen. Amen.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday (St Aelred)

  • Finally, a "normal" day in the office. Task planning at home, MP in the cathedral chapel (they were busy de-greening the nave, chancel, and sanctuary).
  • Extended consultation with the Archdeacon on a number of ongoing matters--some mundane, some complicated, some delicate. This led to the drafting of a couple of hard-copy letters
  • Met with Paige to plot the broad strokes of our next video recording endeavor.
  • Penned a note of condolence to one of our clergy who has recently suffered a family loss.
  • Edited, refined, and printed a working copy of my homily for this Sunday (Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Lunch at home (deli turkey).
  • Attended a video-conference meeting of the Forward Movement Board of Directors between 1:00 and 2:00. Then back to the office.
  • Took care of a bit of personal business by phone.
  • Reached out by email to schedule an appointment that needs to happen with one of our priests.
  • Took a first slow homiletical drive-by of the readings for Palm Sunday.
  • Attended to various issues pertaining to the upcoming Pre-Lenten Clergy Retreat.
  • Responded to an information request from the Church Pension Group.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday

The decision could have gone either way, but I decided to spare my co-workers my nasty-sounding cough, and spent the day at home again. Not much would have changed if I'd gone into the office: With time out to reply to emails as they came in, and to run a shopping errand, I devoted my time and energy to giving birth to a rough draft of my homily at a choral evensong a week from Sunday at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, which serves Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a diocese-like community of Roman Catholics who are permitted to worship using Anglican-like forms. It's pretty much ready to refine and print next week.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday (William Laud)

Wrote and delivered an article to Paige for the next issue of the Current, handled some pastoral/administrative business by email, took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Lent III (St Andrew's, Carbondale), and performed some routine personal organization maintenance (specifically, cleaning up my computer desktop). This was all done courtesy of Amtrak's Lincoln Service wifi, as I accompanied Brenda to a doctor's appointment in Chicago. I realize some consider technology an evil. I rather appreciate it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday

I spent the day under doctor-ordered house arrest ... though I did sneak out with Brenda in the afternoon to pick up some groceries. Woke up feeling at least 50% better than when I sent to bed last night (I had textbook flu symptoms, but tested negative). If I have an internet connection, however, I can still be pretty productive. I caught up on a thick stack of emails, polished and submitted my next-due post for the Covenant blog, and did some work toward the next edition of the Springfield Current.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

First Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of Christ

Woke up at the Hampton Inn in Lincoln, glad that I had made the trip up there last night. Out the door at 0645, headed from Trinity Church. Presided and preached at their regular 0730 liturgy. Took the time between services for some solid catechetical time with four adult confirmands, and some eavesdroppers. Such occasions pretty much hit the bullseye of what makes me feel like a bishop. Presided, preached, and confirmed at the 0945 Mass, Mad a cameo at coffee hour, then headed to the only Chinese restaurant in Lincoln for lunch with the rector, the senior warden, and two potential postulants for ordination and their families. Got home around 1400, while the precipitation was still liquid. Worked with Brenda to put take down the Christmas tree and stow the ornaments. Around dinnertime, as we were headed out to the grocery store to pick up something to eat, I noticed that the driveway looked shiny, and decided to take a closer look before driving on it (it's on a fairly steep slope). It was black ice, and I hit the deck hard. My left wrist looks to be the casualty. I'll reassess both it and the driving conditions in the morning, then probably get it looked at. Ibuprofen was swallowed and ice applied promptly. We'll see.

Sermon for I Epiphany

Trinity, Lincoln--Mark 1:4-11

I was in the fourth grade in January 1961 when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. I remember my teacher holding us over into our lunch hour to watch it on television. All these 57 years later, I also remember President Kennedy concluding his inaugural address with an invitation to all Americans to “make God’s work truly our own.” Make God’s work truly our own. God’s work, of course, is the work of redemption, of righting wrongs, pursuing justice, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, proclaiming liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind. This is what God does; this is what God is about. And we—we see a world that needs redemption by the boatload. We see mass shootings, pretty much on a regular basis now. We see sexual predators—a new celebrity sexual predator or two nearly every day, and an unknowable number of non-celebrity sexual predators. We see a political landscape, both nationally and at a state level, that is polarized and paralyzed seemingly beyond hope. We see ongoing acts of terrorism on the world stage—no more 911s, thank God, but a steady stream of smaller-scale events that just keep chipping away at our sense of security.

And as we look at all these things from which the world needs redemption, the sum total of which can easily leave us shell-shocked, it may seem—it may appear, we could be forgiven for inferring—it may seem like God is above it all, impervious, willfully choosing to do nothing about it. It’s easy to not really take very seriously either God’s intent to redeem the brokenness of the universe, or God’s ability to redeem the brokenness of the universe. In the words of Archibald MacLeish in his play JB, “If God is God, he is not good; if God is good, he is not God.” So if God himself will not make God’s work truly his own, then it’s up to us, right? There’s an enticing temptation right there in front of us—the temptation to assume that, yes, God’s work is the work of redemption, but that we need to confect that redemption ourselves. We come up with platitudes like, “God has no hands but ours …” Or, if you’re looking for something with a little more literary merit, there’s the poem by William Blake, writing at the height of all the social evils of the Industrial Revolution in the first half of the nineteenth century, “I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, til we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.” Jerusalem, the City of God, the sign and symbol and sacrament of redemption brought to fruition. And it is ours for the building, making God’s work truly our own.

Except … there’s a major problem. The idea that human beings, through their own dedicated effort, can confect redemption, can make the Kingdom of God happen, can order up the New Jerusalem to descend from the heavens—this all flatly contradicts actual lived human experience. Exhibit A: two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, one of which decimated an entire generation of young men in Europe, and the other of which nearly wiped out all European Jews. Exhibit B: several attempted genocides—Armenia, Cambodia, Burundi, Serbia. Exhibit C: persistent systemic racism in our society, even a half-century since the civil rights movement. And then there’s the sorry record of the Church’s own public witness. As we sing in one of our favorite hymns: “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distrest,” and it’s just as true now as it was when those words were written 150 years ago. If, as Christians, we can’t even maintain unity among ourselves, even among those who wear the same brand-name label, our lofty talk of the reconciling power and love of Christ is utterly empty, devoid of authenticity.

So here we are, in Lincoln, Illinois, on this First Sunday after the Epiphany in the Year of Our Lord 2018, and we meet our old friend from just two or three weeks ago in Advent, that crazy man John the Baptist. He’s at the Jordan River, doing his thing, baptizing. But he’s also talking about the end of that ministry approaching—“end” both in terms of “conclusion” and of “fulfillment”—the One coming after him, whose significance beside which John’s own would utterly melt away. And then that very One appears—Jesus, coming to be baptized. As Mark narrates the event, “When [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

This is a familiar story. The First Sunday after the Epiphany is always a celebration of the baptism of Jesus. We rotate through the three gospel accounts of this event on this Sunday in each of the three years of our lectionary cycle. I’m not going to try and break open the whole thing this morning. I want to focus on one detail that really arrested my attention when I gave this text from a drive-by as I began to prepare for preaching here today. When he came up out of the water, Mark tells us, Jesus saw “the heavens being torn open.” The heavens being torn open. That’s a really dramatic image, isn’t it? I even checked out the original Greek, and it’s just as strong, if not stronger, there. Not just clouds parting. Not just a small opening in the sky, big enough for a dove to get through—as impressive as even that would be. No, the heavens were torn—ripped, open, cloven. It’s an unambiguous, even violently decisive, act of God. There’s nothing demure or modest about it. In this moment, God means business!

It’s a sign, of course, as this sort of thing invariably is. And signs have to be read, they have to be properly interpreted, if they are to be of any value. Over the past year or so, we’ve become accustomed to trying to read signs emanating from North Korea, right? What does it mean when Kim Jong-Un sends up another missile over the Pacific Ocean? What does it mean when he calls the U.S. President a “dotard”? And I suspect that, in North Korea, they’re trying to read the signs that are represented by every tweet that emanates from the White House. In both cases, a tremendous amount hangs on not misinterpreting signs.

So, how do we properly understand the sign of the rending of the heavens on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism? I want to suggest to you that it tells us that God is not retired. God is not AWOL. God is not inattentive or uncaring about the world that so desperately needs redemption. God’s resolve is real. There’s a line from one of our Advent hymns that could plausibly have been sung here only a couple of weeks ago—I don’t know whether it was or not. “In sorrow than the ancient curse should doom to death a universe, you came, O Savior, to set free your own in glorious liberty.” God is not indifferent to suffering and evil. His very heart is moved in sorrow by it. And not only is God resolved; God is able. God’s power is real. God’s power is manifested to Jesus on this occasion, at his baptism, when he comes up out of the water and sees the heavens ripped apart, torn open. And God’s power is manifested through Jesus from that point forward—in his ministry of healing and teaching, as he reigns from the cross as Redeemer and King, and as he rises gloriously from the dead, trampling down death by death.

When we properly read the sign of Jesus’ baptism, then, Jesus draws us to follow our vocation, our calling, to point to him—habitually and repeatedly, as John did, and announce to the world what God is doing—not what we are going to do about X, Y, or Z, but what God is already doing and will continue to do. This allows us to be open about our own brokenness. No, we are not able to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land or anywhere else. We are not capable of doing God’s work; we have failed miserably at it. Only God can do God’s work. So, when we are open about our own brokenness, our own failure to build the perfect just and loving society, then the world no longer perceives us as a bunch of stupid and judgmental hypocrites. Our credibility as heralds of the gospel is restored, and the world is open to the message of redemption through faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Epiphany

A mostly "me time" day, though I did deal with a handful of emails and did some routine personal organization chores. Lots of time on the treadmill. Did some reading. A bit of housekeeping. Tried to work on a jigsaw puzzle left over from Christmas, but was reminded how boring it is. Packed up and headed to north Lincoln mid-evening ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Trinity. Yes, it's only 30 miles, but their 8:00 service is at 7:30, so ...

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday (Twlelfth Day of Christmas)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Emailed a priest celebrating an ordination anniversary today.
  • Edited, refined, and printed a working copy of my sermon for this Sunday (Trinity, Lincoln), taking time out to keep on top of emails as they arrived, confer with the Archdeacon, and confer with the Communicator.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Devoted the afternoon to my next-due post for the Covenant blog. Ended up with a rough draft, which I will refine and submit next week. It's a fairly substantive essay on theological and religious themes present in the TV series The 100.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Thursday (Eleventh Day of Christmas)

  • Sacrificed my Thursday morning treadmill workout to play gracious host over breakfast to my brother and his wife, who spent the night with us while en route to their suburban Chicago home following a sojourn my sister and her family, who live in the Florida panhandle. (They report that it wasn't really warm there, just less cold.) In the office around 10.
  • Got a toehold in working up a sermon for a guest appearance I'm making at a choral evensong on the 21st, to be held in the (Roman Catholic) Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston.
  • Kept an appointment with my cardiologist. Routine checkup. He assures me that I still have a heart, though I suspect some might disagree.
  • Back to that sermon, ending up with a clear sense of direction.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Spent a chunk of the afternoon attending, by phone and internet, to some personal financial planning issues. I don't plan to retire any time particularly soon, but simple math indicates that it's time to be thinking less abstractly and more concretely, and to begin to put certain balls in play.
  • Reached out by email to one of our candidates for ordination.
  • Reached out by email to the Bishop of Tabora, beginning to nail down some of the details of his planned visit to us in June.
  • Did a little bit of Synod-related business (the annual "fallow" period in synod prep is actually pretty short).
  • Scanned and otherwise processed the pile of hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday (Tenth Day of Christmas)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of a small but of Communion Partners business by email.
  • Emailed the President of the Standing Committee to ask to be on their agenda when next they meet.
  • Edited, refined, and printed a working text of my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Lincoln).
  • Discussed with the Administrator the need to order some new letterhead and envelopes. Made some decisions.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Culled and organized a rat's nest of notes toward my next-due post on the Covenant blog.
  • Plotted my sermon prep tasks between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday. (It takes so little time to write that, but it's a very time-consuming chore.)
  • Short-form Evening Prayer on the way home.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday (Ninth Day of Christmas)

Weekly and daily task organization at home. Substantive and lengthy consultation with the Archdeacon on two ongoing pastoral/administrative issues. Morning Prayer (quite tardy) in the cathedral. Devoted the rest of the morning to one of the above-referenced issues. It was a needle-threading exercise, trying to be gentle and supportive even while deploying the authority of my office and deliver unwelcome news. That in itself was enough of a challenge, but there were also technical issues because I was working in Gnosis. Lunch at home. Leftovers. Wrapped up the work to which I had devoted most of the morning. Taking time out around 2:30 to run a personal errand, the afternoon was devoted to my homily for this Sunday (at Trinity, Lincoln), taking it from the "developed outline" stage to "rough draft." Evening Prayer in the cathedral.