Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday

Another substantive and occasionally intense day with "Communion Partners & Friends." We discussed a number of aspects of the issues that will come before General Convention in July, along with ramifications for and perspectives from the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, and, via educated speculation, the Global South and GAFCON. We are motivated by a desire to speak gospel truth, uphold the received faith and order of the Church Catholic, and maintain the highest possible degree of communion with all who name Jesus Christ as Lord. Personally, I am a mixed bag of apprehension, fatigue, and hope. It has been a fruitful couple of days. If the weather and airline gods smile on me, I shall be home before sunset tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tuesday (George Herbert)

First of two full days with "Communion Partners & Friends" at Camp Weed (go ahead an laugh; it's funny *once*) in the Diocese of Florida (about 75 miles west of Jacksonville). There are about 20 of us here--mostly from TEC, with three Canadians and two Brits. Especially gratified to have three diocesan bishops from TEC's Province IX (Spanish-speaking dioceses). Conversation was rich. We continue tomorrow.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday

A day of travel. Out the door for SPI at 8:20. Caught the 9:35 hop on United to O'Hare, got some work done in the United Club during a longishn layover, boarded the 2:08 departure for Jacksonville, picked up my rental car and drove west on I-10 for 75 miles to Camp Weed, the conference center of the Diocese of Florida. Here for a two-day meeting of the Communion Partner bishops, joined by some Canadian and Church of England colleagues, and staffed by a couple of very intelligent and learned non-bishop allies.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Second Sunday in Lent

A merciful start to the day, as Sunday mornings go. Out the door with Brenda at 8:30, en route to the  aspirational target of arriving 30 minutes ahead of the regular 10:15 celebration of the Eucharist at Christ the King, Normal. We duly kept the feast of the Lord's Day, tempered by the Lenten season. After a potluck centered around ham and punctuated by homemade shortbread, we were home by around 1:30.

Sermon for Lent II

Christ the King, Normal--Mark 8:31-38

Imagine that you’re the commander of an army. Your mission is to recapture a village that is currently occupied and controlled by your enemy. How are you going to go about accomplishing your mission? Will you simply mount a frontal assault and hope to overwhelm the defending troops? Should you call for airstrikes to soften up their positions? Should you send an emissary under a white flag and propose terms of surrender? Are the local townspeople inclined to view your army as attackers or liberators? How are the defending troops fixed for supplies—food, ammunition, medicine? The truth is, you can’t really make a good decision about some of these questions until you gather some more information, right? So, if you happen to be occupying high ground, and the village is in a valley, and you have a good pair of binoculars, that puts you at an advantage. If you can get satellite images, that’s even better. If you have a spy inside the town who can find a way to get information out, that’s extremely useful. If you don’t have any of these things, you’re operating blind, and it’s a big game of chance. You can’t see what needs to be seen.

Or, think back to a situation when you’ve said or done something really stupid, something you later came to intensely regret. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I’m sure everyone here can think of something that fits what I’ve just described. Now, that probably happened simply because you didn’t have access to all the relevant information about what was going on, didn’t it? You couldn’t see what needed to be seen. Wouldn’t you have behaved differently if you had seen the big picture, if you had fully known the consequences of your actions? I suspect you indeed would have.

This was the Apostle Peter’s position with respect to the prediction Jesus made of his own suffering and death. Jesus is alone with his disciples one day, and he decides the time is right to tell them something very strange: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” And then Mark the Evangelist goes on to tell us that Jesus “said this plainly”—no parable, no puzzle, just straight out. But Peter isn’t having any of it. He finds the first opportunity to pull Jesus aside and says, “Dude! You’re bringin’ us down. You’ve got to stay more upbeat and avoid all this negativity.” Or something like that.

But if Peter had hard words for Jesus, Jesus had even harder words for Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Calling Peter ‘Satan’? Did he have to be quite that dramatic? In any case, what Jesus was trying to get across, I think, was that Peter had said something monumentally stupid, not because he was presumptuous or impertinent or disrespectful—which he probably was—but because he was running his mouth without complete information. He was judging Jesus without having all the facts. He was making plans for the advancement of Jesus’ “career,” the accomplishment of Jesus’ mission, without some very crucial information. Peter was no more qualified to advise Jesus than a military commander is qualified to move against an enemy position without any intelligence about what sort of opposition his forces will encounter. And the problem was not that Peter was just dense, or even that he was not fully informed. The problem was that Peter was not in the right position with respect to Jesus. So, what does Jesus tell him? “Get behind me.” Get behind me, in the position of a disciple. Disciples follow their master. From behind. The master is in front, leading. The disciples are behind, following. Get behind me, Jesus says. Get into the position of a disciple.

The good news today, in this liturgy for the Second Sunday in Lent, is that when we get behind Jesus, in the position of a disciple, we can see what God sees. Not everything that God sees, for sure, but enough of what God sees to enable us to serve him faithfully and to accomplish the mission that he has entrusted to us, and to make sense of the path that he has called us to walk in. When we get behind Jesus in the position of a disciple, we will see how suffering—our own suffering, to be clear, alongside the suffering of Jesus—we will see how suffering creates the raw material of redemption by which God reweaves the fabric of a broken world, how God makes straight that which has become distorted and twisted by the power of sin and death.

Following Jesus as a disciple is a lifelong discipline, marked by persistence and perseverance. It’s not one single giant act of commitment, one solitary life-changing decision. It is, rather, a lifetime of small daily decisions to embrace suffering—not to seek it out, but not to run from it either. A disciple is not happy about suffering, but a disciple learns to be content in the midst of suffering. A disciple embraces economic hardship when necessary, confident in the one who clothes the lilies of the field in such splendor, and who numbers the hairs on our heads. A disciple embraces social ostracism and ill repute, confident in the favorable opinion of the only one whose opinion counts in the end, bearing patient witness to the one who has welcomed us in love into his own family. A disciple, when called to do so, embraces bodily suffering, even to the point of laying down one’s life. I think here of the marvelous example of Pope St John Paul II, who, as his health declined and his suffering increased, became a martyr—a witness—even before his death through the courage and grace with which he consecrated his suffering to the purposes of God. And, of course, I also think of the brave Coptic Christians who were martyred only three years ago this month on a Libyan beach, with the holy name of Jesus on their lips as their heads were severed from their bodies.

As we embrace the vocation of discipleship, by getting behind Jesus and seeing what he sees as we join our suffering with his, our solace in the near term is the knowledge that we are participating in what God is doing. God is, as we say in one of the grandest of our liturgical prayers, raising up things which had been cast down, and making new things which had grown old, and brining all things to their perfection through his Son Jesus. If that’s what God is doing, then that’s the team I want to be on! And our solace in the long term is that we ourselves are not just observers of and occasionally participants in that redemptive activity, but are ourselves subjects of it. By the effectual working of his providence, God is carrying out in tranquility the plan of salvation in your individual life and mine. We are being made over in the image of Christ, being brought to our perfection by him through whom all things were made.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday (St Polycarp)

  • Worked from home during the morning, either side of a 10am appointment at the lawyer's office for Brenda and me to sign revised end-of-life documents. I suppose there's something serendipitously appropriate about facing our mortality within nine days of Ash Wednesday.
  • Read a substantive Ember Day letter from one of our seminarians, and replied with, I hope, some equal substance.
  • Took a phone call from one of our clerics over an ongoing parish issue.
  • Made some final tweaks to the music selections for the Chrism Mass and sent it off to the cathedral organist.
  • Lunch, still at home. Leftovers.
  • (In the office now.) Worked on my homily for Lent III (Springfield Cathedral), taking it from the "developed outline" to the "rough draft" stage.
  • Sat with my notes, and commentary notes, on the Passion according to St Mark. In time, a homiletical message statement for Palm Sunday (at the cathedral) distilled from that process. It's not easy.
  • Prayer the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. The window along the liturgical south/geographic north) side of the cathedral nave certainly make that an enhanced experience.
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Easter III, in preparation for preaching at St Thomas', Salem on April 15.
  • Reviewed clergy nodal event greetings for March. Did some by hand-written note; others scheduled for email.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday

  • Customary robust (90 minute) Thursday treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Morning Prayer (fashionably late, around 10) in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some personal business (assembling electronic versions of my tax documents to email to my tax preparer).
  • Reached out by phone for a pastoral check-in to one of our clergy who recently underwent a serious medical procedure.
  • Sat down with Paige to re-record some sections of the catechetical video we're currently working on.
  • Emailed the Interim Dean of Nashotah House on a small but important administrative matter.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • My afternoon was consumed by the task of producing about 90% of a rough draft for my next-due post on the Covenant blog.
  • At 4:00 I hit the road southbound for Belleville, arriving at St George's right at the target time of 6:00. Ate Lenten soup with the congregation and delivered a catechetical presentation on the *renunciations* in the baptismal liturgy: cosmic evil, social evil, personal evil. 
  • Then I met for about 90 minutes with the Mission Leadership Team. There are some currently active issues in that family system that need some input from someone outside it. All will be well.
  • Home at 10:45, in time to catch the silver medal performance in ladies figure skating at the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for a scheduled staff meeting.
  • Began to work on rehabbing a prior-year sermon text for Lent V for use this year at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
  • Received and spoke with a member of the larger Nashotah House constituency who arrived unannounced, being in Springfield in connection with his work.
  • Spent the rest of the morning in the aforementioned staff meeting. It has not been our custom to have one, but, in the interest of fostering more effective communication, it seemed "meet and right so to do." I think it was productive.
  • Lunched on leftovers are home. While there, stuck around for a 1:00 conference call about some personal matters.
  • Back in the office, finished the task I had begun earlier with the Lent V sermon.
  • Reviewed, tweaked, commented on, and sent back by email the draft liturgy program for the reception of a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. (He will be of our diocese to begin with, but not in it.)
  • Began the process of preparing to preach on that occasion (March 22). Laid out the broad strokes of a homily,
  • Did the same for the Chrism Mass sermon (March 24).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday

  • Managed to get a bit of an early start to the work day, so I got a leg up on editing and refining my homily for this Sunday (Christ the King, Normal) while waiting for breakfast to happen. Delayed printing it until in the office. (This is actually a sermon I prepared for use three years ago in Glen Carbon, but my visitation was snowed out that day, so all I had to do was pull it out of the freezer, let it thaw, and stick it in the microwave for a bit.)
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Printed the homily I had worked on at home.
  • Spent the rest of my morning working on getting some planned $$ transferred to Bishop Elias in Tabora. Tried the Western Union route again, and ran into the same roadblocks I met last week. Frustrating and time-consuming. Ended up walking to Illinois National Bank and doing it the old-fashioned way, with a bank-to-bank international wire transfer. But that is time-consuming as well. 
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers. Assisted Brenda in getting our dinner started (slow-cooked pork).
  • Took a sermon text for Lent V from a prior year and did the necessary surgery to make it useful for this cycle, at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
  • Took a substantive phone call from one of our clerics.
  • Did a deep dive into planning the hymns and service music for the Chrism Mass. This included making an online purchase of some music for a Gospel Acclamation.
  • Did the fine prep on the roughed-out notes for my Lenten series presentation in Belleville later this week.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Sunday in Lent

The worship at Holy Trinity, Danville seems truly "in spirit and truth," and I find it a joy to be with them. We duly "beat down Satan under our feet" in the Great Litany. And they are in the midst of some significant upgrades to their physical plant, but the church itself and in the ancillary spaces. The city of Danville has gone through more than its share of dislocations over the decades, and I am grateful for Holy Trinity's ongoing witness in that area.

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Holy Trinity, Danville--Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22

It’s Lent. Penitence is in the air. You came together four days ago and confessed your sinfulness and got doused with ashes as a sign of your contrition. We will continue to explore that theme explicitly today and Fr Richard will have the opportunity to keep on doing so over the next two Sundays, and implicitly for the rest of the Lenten season.

Sin happens. Sin can be defined in a number of different ways:  Rebellion against God, putting ourselves in the place of God, deviation from God’s revealed will or the evident order of creation, or breaking one of God’s laws.

Sin affects us; it affects is profoundly. We are the victims of sin. People lie to us, and we make important decisions based on false information, and we suffer as a result. People cheat us. They take advantage of our instinct to trust, to be generous, to give the benefit of the doubt, and we suffer as a result. People steal from us in numerous subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In recent years, identity theft has become a widespread problem that has robbed people of their reputations and their life savings. We are all victims of sin.

But we’re not exactly innocent victims, because we’re also all perpetrators of sin. We lie to other people routinely. We may not blatantly publish “fake news,” and we may think we have worthy motives, like sparing people the pain of hurt feelings, or withholding relevant information in the advancement of a noble cause, but we do lie to other people. It’s amazing what moral gymnastics people will go through in order to justify lying. We also cheat people and steal from them in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We cheat people and rob them when we make assumptions about their character based on their ethnicity, or the language they speak, or how they dress, or what kind of car they drive, or their taste in music.

But the effects of sin transcend even the dynamics of the relationship between victims and perpetrators. Sin affects the fabric of creation. It’s not part of God’s plan that earthquakes cause tidal waves that wipe out entire populations. Tsunamis are evidence of sin, the fallenness of the created order. It’s not part of God’s plan that cells multiply in strange ways and grow into tumors that result in the failure of vital organs. Cancer is evidence of sin, the fallenness of the created order. It’s not part of God’s plan that cats catch and eat birds, and birds catch and eat worms. Predation is evidence of sin, and the fallenness of the created order. Now, I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight with geologists, who are no doubt eager to tell me about plate tectonics that cause earthquakes and how they are completely mindless and wouldn’t know a sin from a sunset. Nor am I trying to alienate molecular biologists and organic chemists and zoologists and evolutionary biologists who have perfectly plausible scientific explanations for cancer and predation. I am not in any way saying that scientific accounts of these horrible things are wrong. Science is essential in describing what happens in the natural world and how it happens. It’s the job of philosophy and theology, however, to interpret, to give meaning to that which science describes, and the significance of natural disasters and diseases and suffering of any sort is that they tell us all is not right with the world. It is fallen. We live and move and have our being under the power and curse of sin. As our Eucharistic Prayer puts it, we have become “subject to evil and death.”

But we’re not through yet, because sin also affects God—even God. The reality and presence of sin creates a conflict for God, a conflict between the very attributes of God’s divine nature. We know, from what God has revealed to us about himself, that he is infinitely loving and abundantly compassionate. In the prior edition of the Prayer Book, the formula for absolution following the General Confession at Morning Prayer included the biblical language that God “desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.” We also know that God is perfectly just, to a degree of fairness and impartiality that we cannot even imagine. More to the point, God is supremely holy. He is the very essence of life and wholeness. It is against his basic nature to tolerate anything that deviates from perfect justice and perfect righteousness. So, sin creates a conflict for God, because it pits God’s love against God’s justice, his mercy against his holiness.

What can God do? What options are available to him? How can he deal creatively and constructively with the problem of sin—sin as it affects human relationships, sin as it affects all of creation, and sin as it affects God himself? One strategy might be to simply ignore it, overlook it, engage in what might be called benign neglect. Perhaps, if God is just patient enough with us and our sinfulness, we’ll eventually figure things out, and get better under our own motivation. As most of you know, I’m married to a woman who spent multiple decades as a piano teacher. Over the years, I’ve heard her complain, of course, about students who don’t practice in a way that does justice to their talent. But, more frequently, I’ve heard her complain about parents who make practicing the piano a chore, like setting the table or cleaning their rooms. Brenda’s philosophy of piano practice has always been that it should be self-motivated, its own reward, an end in itself. Maybe God could take the same attitude toward our progressing in overcoming sin. Punishment serves no practical purpose. We’ll eventually get it.

Of course, this is what we hope for with respect to our own sins, or the sins of someone we love. I once watched a movie on television about a teenager who unintentionally kills his girlfriend in an isolated place, then walks away from the scene. When the boy’s father discovers incriminating evidence, he gets rid of it, and does his best to steer the authorities in the wrong direction. Yes, his son made a mistake, but why should he go to jail until he’s a middle-aged man because of a momentary lapse in judgment? He tells the boy, “Let’s work on keeping you out of jail now. We’ll worry about saving your soul later.” He obviously didn’t trust the judicial system to come to the same conclusion he hoped God would come to. However, when we’re the victim of sin, we have a slightly different attitude. Just read Psalm 109 sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. 109—make a mental note of it. In any case, though, this is not a route God chooses to follow. It’s in keeping with the spirit of his compassionate love but would be hugely inconsistent with his justice and his holiness.

Then again, in response to sin, God could decide to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start, to see if he could make a world that would not fall captive to the power of sin, to destroy what he had made and start over. Since the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, and the simultaneous rise in the popularity of computer solitaire, I’ve noticed that some programs are strict, and make you lie in the bed you make, so to speak, while others are more lenient, and allow you to start over with the same cards, but with no penalties. So, you can learn from your mistakes but not suffer their consequences. What a lovely idea! This must have been the sort of program God was playing with when he told Noah to build an ark and then made it rain long enough to wipe out all human and animal life that wasn’t on the ark. But when it was all over, God decided to swear off “do-overs.” To destroy in vengeance is not in keeping with God’s nature of love. He decided to live thereafter in the bed that he had made. And he put a rainbow in the sky as a sign—a reminder to himself—of this covenant not to press the reset button on his creation ever again.
           
Instead, God is committed to redemption as his strategy for responding to sin. Not neglect, which compromises God’s justice and holiness, not destruction, which abrogates God’s compassion and love, but redemption, which honors both.  Redemption doesn’t make a new thing; it makes something new out of something old. God wants to take each of us as we are and take us apart and put us back together according to his own likeness and image. God wants to take creation itself and remake it, not to bring back Eden, but to introduce something better, not to merely restore what we’ve lost, but to give us something we’ve never even thought to want!

Redemption is not a slam dunk. It’s not easy or simple. It’s not a matter of God snapping his fingers, or telling his executive officer, “Make it so.” Redemption is complex. Ask anybody in the construction business, and they’ll tell you that thoroughly remodeling an old building is usually much more complicated and difficult than constructing a new one from scratch. It would have been much easier for God to deal with sin by sending another flood, or an asteroid, or a swarm of fire ants, to destroy our race and give him a blank slate to work with. But whenever that thought occurs to him, he looks at the sky and sees a rainbow and reminds himself of his covenant with Noah not to go that route again. He has made a commitment to the hard work of redemption.

Redemption is not easy, nor is it cheap. When you’re responsible for a house or another building that needs constant maintenance, it’s always tempting to do a patch here and a patch there, and just paper over problems, rather than tearing out the dry rot and really fixing the place, which would be very costly. In the same way, redemption is costly. It cost God the agony of watching his own beloved Son—literally his own flesh and blood—die on the cross. It would have been much cheaper for God to wink and nod and hope we’ll find our own way out of the mess we’re in. But that would have been inconsistent with his nature of justice and holiness.

My brothers and sisters, as we walk through Lent, as we live under the covenant of the rainbow, the cost of our redemption will become progressively clearer to us, culminating in our celebration of the Paschal Mystery in the Triduum. May we worthily keep the fast, that we may worthily keep the feast. Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday (Janani Luwum)

Up and out in time to get to the cathedral-office complex by 9am for prepare for the 10am Diocesan Council Mass and Meeting. Presided and preached in commemoration of the lesser feast of the Ugandan archbishop and martyr (under Idi Amin) Janani Luwum. Presided over a council meeting that was fairly routine. We had a good discussion of possible reconfigurations of the timeframe of our annual diocesan synod. Met afterward with the Chancellor, who is also the Senior Warden of St Andrew's, Edwardsville, so we talked about matters involving both his "hats." After tending to domestic matters in the afternoon, including a good treadmill workout, I hit the road in the evening for Champaign, ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Holy Trinity, Danville.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday (Martyrs of Libya)

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home, while I waited for a plumber.
  • Spent the rest of the morning at home waiting for a mold abatement contractor who never showed. But I was not idle:
  • Drafted a formal letter inviting the Bishop of Tabora, his wife, and one other from the diocese to visit us later this year. Sent it by email to Sue, who formatted and printed it on letterhead, affixed my scanned signature, scanned it, and sent it back to me by email. I downlaoded and sent it on the Bishop Elias by email. Isn't technology wonderful?
  • Turned my attention to another large writing project--a pastoral teaching document on sex, sexual behavior, and marriage. Finished drafting a section on basic theological assumptions.
  • Ate a lunch of leftovers.
  • In the office now: Squandered a bunch of time in a technology fiasco (sometimes technology is not wonderful) in a vain attempt to wire money to Tabora using Western Union. We'll develop a Plan B next week.
  • In an ongoing attempt to go as paperless as possible, spent a chunk of quality time with both the network scanner and my desktop scanner. It feels good to be incrementally more organized.
  • Did an Ignatian-style meditation on the gospel reading from the daily office lectionary (from John 17).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday (Thomas Bray)

  • Out the door earlier than usual, right at 8:00, to run the YFNBmobile to the dealer for a scheduled maintenance appointment. (Short form MP on the way.) Checked it in and headed down Second Street on foot, arriving at the office around 8:30.
  • Immediately logged in on a conference call meeting the the Society of King Charles the Martyr board. I can say that the devotional societies like SKCM do vital work, but they do good work, and I am pleased to be able help. My, oh my, are the meetings ever long! This one was two hours. Don't tell anyone else on the board, but I did get some multi-tasking done. to wit:
  • Finished the reflection on an Advent hymn text that I began yesterday afternoon.
  • Reserved a rental car for week after next when I fly to Florida for a Communion Partners meeting.
  • Began to work on roughed-out notes for a Lenten soup supper teaching presentation I'm set to make at St George's, Belleville next week.
  • The meeting adjourned, I took a bit of a decompression break. (Despite the multi-tasking, there were points when I was very much directly engaged in the conversation, so it was mentally wearing.) Walked across the office and bothered the Archdeacon.
  • Finished the Lenten series prep to the point where I can refine it next week, finishing around 11:40, just in time to walk back up to Isringhausen BMW and retrieve my vehicle.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten at home.
  • With Brenda alongside me, drove across town to another auto dealer, this time Hyundai, to pick up her car, which has been in in-patient since Monday. It turned out that the one thing that we took it in there for, a burned out headlight bulb, had not been replaced. (The other stuff they did, costing about as much as the car is worth, was discovered after they got the vehicle in hand.) So ... more waiting. To their credit, they comped the parts and labor on the headlight.
  • Back in the office to find a short stack of emails that I took the time to process.
  • Too advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to take a brisk walk down Second to South Grand and back up on Spring St.
  • Wrote an email to the Standing Committee, following up on the face-to-face meeting I had with them last week.
  • Made air travel arrangements for a trip to the Baltimore area that I need to take next month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home. (I had to wait for a furnace service technician.)
  • While the furnace was being worked on, I took care (by email) of an administrative chore pertaining to an ordination issue.
  • In the office a bit before 10: Had a long and substantive phone conversation with one of our clergy about some parochial goings-on.
  • Had a series of short meetings with Paige in pursuit of untangling a Gnosis (our database) issue.
  • Worked on another financial/administrative Gordian knot, eventually punting it to somebody else to finish the job. I can do spreadsheets to a point, and then ... not so much.
  • This being a fasting day, I went home for lunch*time,* but not actual lunch. The strength of routine is compelling.
  • This seems to be the day for administrative chores that are not just slam dunks. Much of my earlier afternoon was consumed by stuff pertaining to the scheduled visit of the Bishop of Tabora to the diocese in June.
  • Reviewed a rough cut of the latest catechetical video project that Paige and I have been working on. Much of it needs to be re-recorded. Not her fault, but mine! We talked about a technical fix that might help my performance.
  • Read and marked (I didn't go so far as to learn and inwardly digest) the annual report from the cathedral's parish meeting.
  • Did the same with the same genre of material from St George's, Belleville. 
  • Turned my attention to a long-term writing project, a series a short reflections on liturgical and hymn texts for the season of Advent. Got about halfway through a piece on the hymn "Lo, he comes ...".
  • Headed home at 4:15 to retrieve Brenda, run a short errand, and drive down to St Michael's, O'Fallon, where it was my privilege to preside and preach at their evening Ash Wednesday liturgy. We got back home a little before 10:15.

Ash Wednesday Homily

St Michael’s, O’Fallon

The beginning of Lent, for most of us, triggers a series of associative responses from the past. This chain of associations is rarely the same for any two of us, since we each come with our own unique perspective. I was brought up in a Baptist household, so Lent was something other people did.  But I did live in the suburbs of Chicago, so I went to school with a lot of kids whose last names ended in s-k-i  or w-i-c-z, and whose Roman Catholicism was constantly, if quietly, evident. I remember them showing up at school on Ash Wednesday with curious black smudges on their foreheads and wondering just what that was about. I also distinctly recall looking at the food supplement of the Chicago Daily News and noticing a lead article on “creative ideas for Lenten meals,” and feeling rather out of the cultural mainstream.

If you were raised Roman Catholic, you probably remember a noticeable change in the menu in the school cafeteria and at home, and a fair amount of pressure from various authority figures to identify just what it was you were giving up or taking on as your Lenten discipline.  Now if you're one of the few, the proud, the cradle Episcopalians, then there's no telling for sure what Lent might mean to you. Last week I posted on Facebook my response to a reporter who asked how Episcopalians keep Ash Wednesday, and there were lots of comments from other Episcopalians, clergy even, who said they’d never heard of what I described. But in any case, there's a good chance it meant being in church on Ash Wednesday, though there's an equally good chance that the only ashes to be found were on the wicks of the altar candles after they were snuffed. If nothing else, it meant that church services were a little more somber, with hymns sung more slowly and lugubriously than usual. Whether or not Lent affected your home life depended on the level of churchmanship that your parents and your parish adhered to.

But anyway, here we are, gathered together in St Michael’s Church, in O’Fallon, Illinois, on February 14, 2018—gathered together with our various backgrounds, associations, experiences, and pre-conceptions. Except in years when Easter falls well into April, I usually don’t feel quite ready for Lent—it feels like Christmas was just last week. At times, though, I’ve been more than ready, already in Lenten mood by the time Ash Wednesday rolls around. But time, as we learn sooner or later, waits for none of us, and the rhythm of the year unfolds in glorious ignorance of the rhythms of our personal lives.

For some of you here this evening, Lent could hardly have come at a more appropriate time, for you are truly experiencing desolation in your life. I don’t know who you are, but you do. The tone of your life is dark and austere, and the austerity and restraint of our liturgy this evening is an altogether appropriate expression of the condition you find yourself in.

Others of you come to this service with an acute sense of your own sinfulness. You know exactly what it is that you should justly be feeling remorseful for, precisely what it is that is separating your soul from God this evening. I don’t know who you are, but you do. And when, in a few minutes, we pray the litany of penitence together, and, then, after receiving the ashes, pray the fifty-first psalm, what flows out of your lips will truly fit with the condition of your heart:  "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses."

Others who worship with us this evening, however, find that, while the calendar tells them it's Lent, their hearts tell them it's Christmas or Easter—or at least Valentine’s Day! Maybe life has never been better for you than it is right now. Maybe you've just achieved a long-cherished goal and are still savoring the sweetness of accomplishment. Maybe you're overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and joy over the many blessings that God has showered upon you.  I don’t know who you are, but you do. You want to cry out "Alleluia!" just when that word is supposed to be banished from our vocabulary for the next several weeks. For you, what we do this evening will be slightly jarring, slightly unsettling. It's not that you'll be able to disagree with anything that's said, but it just won't be from the heart.

And then, there are those who are here, who may not have a very clear idea at all as to why they're here. Perhaps you're a young person and were not given a choice in the matter. Perhaps you were assigned something in particular to do and showed up in fulfillment of your duty. Again, I don’t know who you are, but you do. For you, tonight's liturgy may be confusing and/or boring, something you'll have no trouble forgetting the moment you walk out the door. Then again, maybe you'll have an "Aha!" experience, and see something you've never noticed before. Maybe you'll always look back on this Ash Wednesday as the starting point of a lively and authentic relationship with God. Stranger things have happened.

But what I want to tell you is that, in the larger scheme of things, the way any of us feels about tonight's goings-on is of passing small importance.  What is important, is that we're all here, doing what we're doing. Now I wonder whether it strikes you as a little bit odd to hear me say that?  I know it strikes me as odd! It challenges two of the fundamental presumptions that you and I are conditioned by.

The first of these presumptions is that what we do, we do primarily as individuals. Even when we do something as part of a group, we assume that the group is neither more nor less than the sum of its individual parts. This view doesn't square, however, with the way God seems to deal with mankind. When the world was destroyed by flood, the sure route to salvation was by being on board Noah's ark. The ark escaped the flood, and thereby the individuals who were on it. Under the terms of the Old Covenant, the fundamental basis of one's right standing before God was membership in the community of Israel, the nation with whom the covenant was made. The words of the prophet Joel that we heard read a few minutes ago spoke of the need of the entire nation to repent and return to the Lord. And under the terms of the New Covenant, the covenant we have with God through Christ, we are saved by participation in the body of Christ, which is the community of the church. It is into this body that we are born in the sacrament of baptism.

And, you know, it could not be more appropriate that we are saved as individuals by sharing in the life of a group, because we are also sinners as individuals by virtue of being part of a group. Sure, many of the sins we commit are quite personal and individual, and those are the ones that are likely to make us feel the guiltiest—but, remember, tonight isn't about feelings! Pay close attention to the Litany of Penitence that we are shortly about to pray together.  Most of the sins that we will confess are not offenses that would be of any interest to the vice squad of the O’Fallon PD!  They're sins that we're guilty of as a whole society. Who's responsible for the plight of the hungry and the homeless? No single individual, but all of us as a society. Who's responsible for the pollution of our air and water? No single individual, but all of us as a society. When I first moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana about thirty years ago, I very righteously decided to boycott Exxon in protest over what was then a recent massive oil spill in Alaska. But then it occurred to me that that was the height of hypocrisy! I was biting the hand that fed me! My protest had not a shred of moral authority. I may never have spilled a drop of oil on God's green earth, but as long as I cashed my paycheck twice a month—a paycheck that was as dependent on the Baton Rouge economy as the Baton Rouge economy was on the petroleum-refining industry, then I was just as guilty of environmental pollution as if I personally dumped toxic waste into the Mississippi River. There is such a things as social sin, and it needs to be repented of as surely as does individual sin.

So, the Ash Wednesday liturgy challenges the presumption that the only behavior that counts is individual behavior. But there is another presumption—an even more important one, I believe—that is called into question by what we do here this evening. You and I are conditioned, in a multitude of ways, to perceive the exterior as an expression of the interior. In other words, what I do and say is a reflection of what I think and feel. This is by no means a false assumption, as far as it goes. In fact, it's probably the ideal situation, where our actions and our words are harmonized with our thoughts and feelings. But, it can also work in the opposite direction. Energy can flow from our actions to our beliefs and emotions, from the exterior to the interior. And this is one of the supreme benefits of liturgy, and of the cycle of liturgical time, with its alternation between feasting, fasting, and just ordinary living.

Tonight, the body of Christ, the community of the church, is repenting, expressing corporate remorse for things done and left undone. Any one of the particular cells of the body may or may not "need" to repent in the particular way and for the particular sins of which the body is repenting. But the body still needs the contribution of those cells. There are those weak cells, who, as individuals, need to repent, but are unaware of their need, or lack the ability to do so, and require the assistance of stronger voices confessing and stronger knees kneeling.  For those weak cells of the body, tonight is a school of repentance. They will learn by doing, with the rest of the community acting as spiritual training wheels. In time, by participating in liturgies such as this one, the exterior words and actions of the "weak" cells will transform their thoughts and feelings, so that their outward aspect and their inward aspect will be in harmony.

And the stronger cells, whose, who, as individuals, have no overwhelming need of repentance now, prepare themselves for the time when they will need to turn yet again toward Christ. By "going through the motions" this evening, even though the words spoken may seem to overstate the actual condition of their lives, they maintain their spiritual fitness the way an athlete keeps in shape by running or lifting weights during the off season.

So, join me in this solemn assembly, and let us keep this fast together, regardless of whether we're ready for it, or in the mood for it. Receive, with me, the mark of our mortality on our foreheads, and share with me, once again, in taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the sacred gifts by which this mortality is defeated. Amen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shrove Tuesday (Absalom Jones)

  • Weekly and daily task organization at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Worked with Paige for a bit ironing out a couple of details in our latest video project.
  • Bothered Sue about some details of my health insurance coverage.
  • Dashed off an email over an administrative issue.
  • Revised, edited, formatted, printed, and scheduled for posting my Ash Wednesday homily (St Michael's, O'Fallon).
  • Stepped out at 11:30 to take my wife and myself to back-to-back dentist appointments. (Fortunately, we see the same dentist.)
  • Lunch from Chick-Fil-A, eaten at home,
  • Back at the office, did the same thing for my Lent 1 sermon (Holy Trinity, Danville) as I had done in the morning for Ash Wednesday.
  • Ducked out early to fetch Brenda and head over to the Hyundai dealer to pick up her car, but it was done yet and they forgot to call. Hmm. Patience and forgiveness. 
  • So ... stopped by HyVee for a couple of things and started on cooking a proper Mardi Gras dinner--fried catfish topped with shrimp etouffe√©. Now bring on Lent.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

My visitation was to St Paul's, Pekin, where the regular Sunday liturgy at this time of year isn't until 11:00, so it was mercifully reasonable hour before we had to leave home. The roads were not in top condition, with lots of snow and slush mixed with the detritus of last night's freezing rain, but the further north we got, the better the condition of the road. We duly kept the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in all the glory of the transfigured Christ, enjoyed a post-liturgical repast in the parish hall, got to spend quality time with little Martin Dallman, Fr Matthew and Hannah's youngest, and were home a little after 3:00.

Sermon for Last Sunday after the Epiphany

St Paul's, Pekin--Mark 9:2-9, Psalm 27:5-11, II Peter 1:16-21

Some of you may have heard me relate the story of how I entered college in 1969 with the intention of majoring in Political Science, and then going on to law school, and perhaps a career in politics. Instead, as a result of a rather profound interior crisis during the first semester of my freshman year, I switched to music. I realized that music had a grip on my soul, and I may as well relax and go with the flow rather than try to fight it. That act of surrender enabled me to continue a series of encounters with particular composers and particular musical works, each of which touched me at their respective times in ways too deep to express in words. Later that freshmen year, I discovered the symphonies of Johannes Brahms—not just as superficially attractive, but as an experience of connecting with their profound beauty at the level of my innermost being. It was a truly spiritual connection. In time, over a period of years, this experience of falling in love with a particular piece of music replicated itself several times: the symphonies of Beethoven, each of the nine in their turn, the magnificent “Resurrection” symphony of Gustav Mahler, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s fugues. More recently, most anything by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams just gets me high.

Now, my point in telling you all this is not to impress you with my taste in music. In fact, you are perfectly welcome to think that I have horrible taste in music; it won’t offend me in the least. What I hope I am accomplishing, however, is to induce you to substitute your own taste for mine, and to reflect on how you have had that same sort of soul-stirring spiritual encounter with a song, or a painting, or a poem or a story, the experience of losing yourself in a work of art, and thereby coming to know yourself more deeply and more clearly. A moving encounter with profound beauty, more often than not, comes as a surprise, an unexpected delight. The first moments of looking out over the south rim of the Grand Canyon left me literally breathless; it was more spectacular than I ever could have imagined from seeing pictures. All of us, I’m sure, have had the experience of being struck by the overwhelming beauty of a person’s face at the moment we first see it. We treasure these moments of surprise, these moments of encounter with the transcendently beautiful. We treasure them precisely because they are sublimely unnecessary, completely optional, serving no evidently practical purpose. They don’t feed or clothe or house anyone. They make no contribution to the gross domestic product. Yet, we all know how impoverished our lives would be without beauty. Even amid the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, beautiful music got composed and performed, and in those brief moments, the light of heaven shone in the pits of hell.

We treasure beauty because, much of the time, it seems so rare. We feel inundated by the ugliness of sickness and decay, betrayal and violence, poverty and injustice, suffering caused by natural disasters. And if we are fortunate enough to not be surrounded by overt ugliness, then, in a way, we are not really so fortunate at all, because then we are just suffocated slowly by the repetitively dreary ongoing cycle of daily routine. We work, we eat, we sleep—we work, we eat, we sleep—over and over again, and then we die, and if we’re lucky, it never occurs to us that our lives are meaningless.

So, from inside our dull, if not always overtly ugly, existence, we will grasp at such glimmers of heavenly beauty as may be within our reach. The story of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of those glimmers; it’s something that our imaginations can easily grab hold of. The gospels, of course, only give us the barest outline. As a spiritual exercise, however, we are free to wonder about the details. What did the three disciples and Jesus talk about as they walked up the mountain? Or were they silent? Did the change in Jesus’ appearance occur suddenly or gradually? Did only his clothing glow, or did his skin and hair glow as well? How long did it last? How did the disciples recognize that it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus? As we ask ourselves questions like these, it’s difficult not to be envious of Peter and James and John. It was obviously an experience of immense importance to them in their path of discipleship—important enough, apparently, for Peter to mention it some decades later in his second epistle. The experience sustained these disciples through some particularly challenging times that lay ahead. It was an encounter with sheer beauty, which drove them to make some response—“Let’s build three monuments, Lord, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—the encounter drove them to make some response, but in fact, no response was adequate, so great was the transfigured splendor of Jesus on that mountaintop.

Among the other inherent attributes of his nature that he has revealed to us, God is beautiful. Yes, God is all-powerful, and all-knowing, and present everywhere. Yes, as St John tells us, “God is love.” But God is also beautiful. “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness…” we read in the twenty-ninth Psalm. Today’s selection from Psalm 27 reinforces the theme:
One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. … You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek.
God’s beauty is made accessible to us, broadly speaking, in the Incarnation, when God took human flesh and “pitched his tent” among us, “moved into the neighborhood,” as one translation puts it, living as one of us. In the face of Christ, we see the face of God. But God’s beauty is made available to us specifically and concretely on occasions such as this, when we come together to re-member, to re-assemble, to re-present, to put back together the Body of Christ—the body of the transfigured Christ—as we celebrate the Eucharist, as we take our places beside Peter and James and John and “behold the fair beauty of the Lord” and respond to that beauty, not by offering to build monuments, but by offering our lives in worship and devotion and service.

In the light of the transfigured Christ, we can take the ugliness of human experience, we can take the mere daily dreariness of human experience, and look at it from an angle that calls forth hope rather than despair, a perspective that call forth health and life rather than decay and death. This is why it is so vitally important that we come back to the Mass, back to the altar, Sunday by Sunday, as often as we are able, to seek the face of God, to behold his fair beauty in his house, his temple. I know it’s my job, and Fr Matthew’s job, to tell you that it’s important to be in church every Sunday, and you know it’s our job to tell you it’s important to be in church every Sunday. But we don’t do that because it’s our job, or because we get an ego boost out of seeing filled pews inside St Paul’s. We do it because it’s the vision of God’s beauty—God’s beauty touching us in the innermost parts of our souls, God’s beauty made available to us in Word and Sacrament, in the liturgy of the church—it’s the vision of God’s beauty that enables all of us to keep on keeping on in the face of the ugliness and blandness that surrounds us. “One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the Lord.” Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Devoted most of the morning to my homily for Lent III, which is now going to be at the cathedral rather than St Andrew's, Carbondale. Took it from the "message statement" to "developed outline" stage.
  • Issued a lay ministry license (preaching, in this case), in response to a request from one of our clergy.
  • Provided some pastoral care via email to a priest from outside the diocese. 
  • Lunch from La Bamba ("burritos as big as your head," except I usually order tacos), eaten at home.
  • Kept a 1:15 physical therapy appointment. I "graduated." The pain issue for which I referred has resolved. I got a referral to a chiropractor for ongoing treatment of another issue that is *not* what I originally went in for.
  • Worked with Paige to make the raw recording of my next catechetical video in the "Saven Marks" series. Now she's got some editing to do.
  • Moved the ball a few yards down the field in preparation for the annual Chrism Mass next month.
  • Made some initial broad stroke prep for a couple of parish teaching engagements I have during Lent.
  • Attended to a routine personal organization chore (cleaning out the Inbox in my Evernote app).
  • Processed the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox, mostly by scanning, categorizing, and tagging.
  • Friday prayer: Quality time at the organ bench in the cathedral with a hymnal.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thursday

  • From home: organized my work for the day, sent an email to a staff member, and began editing/refining my sermon for this Sunday (St Paul's, Pekin).
  • Kept a 9:00 appointment with my psychotherapist. (Morning Prayer fell through the cracks today.)
  • To the diocesan office for a meeting of the Finance Committee.
  • Finished the sermon I'd begun working on, and printed my working script.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Met with Paige to make some preparations toward shooting the next catechetical video in the queue.
  • Reached out by email to the Bishop of Maryland on a matter that concerns both of us.
  • Picked up and dusted off an Ash Wednesday sermon text from a year long, long ago. Positioned it for major surgery and re-purposing for use next week at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • While I was scrubbed in, loaded another pre-used homily text onto the operating table and did some cosmetic surgery in anticipation of using at on Lent I at Holy Trinity, Danville.
  • Used the "Doodle poll" tool for the first time (other than as a recipient) to begin the process of setting a date and time for a couple meetings that need to be held.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday

The main Wednesday event at the annual pre-Lenten clergy retreat is a plenary conversation with the Bishop. We talked about a range of issues, some more concrete and some more conceptual, some of which will bear short-term fruit and some that will have to yet simmer for a while. I always enjoy this conversation. There are some great clergy in this diocese, and it is my honor to serve with them. The event ended after Mass and lunch. I got home around 3:00, and spent the rest of the afternoon processing a stack of emails before taking Brenda out for a belated birthday dinner.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tuesday

At the clergy retreat. Morning Prayer at 8, followed by breakfast, second retreat address at 9:30, Mass at 11:30, lunch, free afternoon (expect the Bishop, who had a nearly-full dance card of one-on-one conferences), Evensong at 5:30 followed by dinner, third retreat address at 7:30 followed by discussion, Compline, and social time.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monday (Martyrs of Japan)

Spent most of the morning attacking various loose ends, both personal and professional. Kept an 11:15 physical therapy appointment. Stopped by the office to retrieve some items I needed for the clergy retreat. Drove down to St Michael's, O'Fallon to meet with the Standing Committee. Drove to Kings House in Belleville and got settled in for the retreat. Played piano and organ for evensong. Dinner, followed by first of three retreat addresses, followed by Compline and social time.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Up and out of my Decatur-area hotel room to be at St John's in time to preside and preach at their regular 7:30am liturgy, and then again at 10:00. It's one of the loveliest churches in the diocese, and is a happy community under the pastoral care of Fr Dick Swan. The post-liturgical coffee hour paid tribute to the ministry of Deacon Don Coventry, who, at age 80, and with the recent ordination of Deacon Chris Gregory, is scaling back the profile of his ministry. He understands that someone under the yoke of Holy Orders never *really* retires, but he has certainly earned some rest. 

Sermon for Epiphany V

St John's, Decatur--Mark 1:29-39, I Corinthians 9:16-23

As time goes by, as I get older, I find myself constantly revising my idea of what constitutes "old." Every time I visit a retirement community or a nursing home, I remind myself that the people I meet there, though they look "old" to me—and to themselves when they look in a mirror don't necessarily think of themselves as "old,” but simply as people who happen to be incarnate in old bodies. It probably doesn't seem all that long ago to them that they were middle-aged, or young adults. The fact is, life—even a long life—is short. And along the way, we get sick, and people we love get sick, and we begin to wonder, just how short is "short?" Those of us who believe in God, or who are inclined to believe in God, naturally raise the question, then: why?

If God is the God of life and the living, why do people—young, old, and in between—get sick and die? God has the ability, it appears, to reverse the progress of disease, and even to re-invigorate a dead body with new life. We get glimpses of this possibility and our hopes are raised. God demonstrates that capability liberally and lavishly in the ministry of Jesus. The brand new disciple, Simon Peter, has a sick mother-in-law; she's in bed with a fever. Jesus simply grasps her by the hand, and the fever is gone, and she's on her feet, fixing everybody a meal. That evening, the crowds gathered outside Peter's house, and Jesus cured all kinds of sickness, and cast out quite a few demons while he was at it. That was in the town of Capernaum, and what a sight it must have been!  What a stir it must have caused!

But what about the sick and demon-possessed people in the next town, or in the town beyond that, or in any of the other towns in Galilee? And what about all the sick people in Judaea, and beyond the Jordan in Syria, and to the north in Lebanon, and to the south in Egypt? Inasmuch as he possessed a genuine human body, Jesus could only be present in one place at a time. His ability as a healer was just dandy for those lucky people who were in Capernaum that day, and who managed to find their way to Simon Peter's house. But where was Jesus for all the other sick people in the world that day? How many people in the world died that very day because Jesus was doing his healing in Capernaum rather than in their city or town or village? And, presumably, everyone who was in Capernaum that day, and who got healed, sometime or another got sick again, and died this time. Where was Jesus then? Why don't we hear about the mysterious two-thousand year old citizens of Capernaum today?

Well, you might be tempted to remind me that Jesus still performs miracles, that prayer is still sometimes answered by medically inexplicable disappearances of cancer cells and reappearances of nerve tissue. I know these things happen. I’ve met people whom they've happened to. And I give glory and praise to God whose merciful love manifests itself in healing from sickness. But I also know that funeral establishments across the land keep plenty busy, and that a great many of their customers had prayed earnestly that they would not yet be invited to the position of honor in an escorted parade to the cemetery. Where was Jesus the healer for them?

The morning after Jesus healed the crowds outside Peter's house, he got up very early, before dawn, and walked out into the pasture land beyond the town for some time in prayer. Eventually, his disciples tracked him down, somewhat impatiently. People were looking for him. There were more paralytics who were still lame, blind who couldn't see, and deaf who couldn't hear. His work was not over. But Jesus has other plans. "No, fellas, I'm not going back into Capernaum just now. Let's go to the next town. I've got to proclaim the message there also; that's what I came out here to do."

Mark tells us that he then travelled throughout the region of Galilee, doing two things.  One: "proclaiming the message" —that is, preaching. Two: casting out demons. Healing ordinary physical ailments is not mentioned as part of this essential core of Jesus's activity. No, in Mark's gospel, the entirety of Jesus's life and ministry is interpreted in the light of the cross, and only in the light of the cross. When we ask: "Why does Jesus heal some when they ask for it and leave others sick? Why do some die after much prayer and others recover?” we're not asking the best question. The better question is, "What is Jesus trying to show us when he heals the ones he heals? What is he trying to tell us when some walk back from the jaws of death when it seemed like their number was up?

The answer to our questions is found in the cross, and the healing that flows from the sacrifice that was offered there. You see, the diseases that we're concerned about, the ones we get so worked up over, the ones we pray to be delivered from—from chicken pox to epilepsy, from the common cold to cancer—these are not really the problem. Even if they don't get us, just plain old age will! So when we're miraculously cured of cancer, that's a glorious occasion, but it only delays the inevitable. Our real problem, our real cause for concern, is our relationship with God. The real source of our anxiety is the fact that we're sinners, that by nature we have no portion of the inheritance of Heaven, that we suffer from a condition that no medical doctor in this world can treat, a condition that is fatal to the body, and fatal to the soul. And only in the cross is our hope for deliverance from that dreadful sickness.

In Capernaum, Jesus extended healing to a few people who eventually got sick again, and died. But, on Calvary, Jesus extended healing and life to all who believe in him, healing and life that forgives our sins, heals our guilt, overcomes our shame, and re-directs our lives. In Capernaum, Jesus opened eyes that would see ugliness as well as beauty, and ears that would hear weeping as well as laughter. But on Calvary, Jesus pioneered our passage through all ugliness and weeping and sin and sickness and death, our passage to eternal life and perfect communion with God. The healing miracles that Jesus performed in Capernaum and elsewhere, and the healing miracles he continues to perform in our own time, are good news, but they are not in themselves the good news. They prepare us for the good news, they set us up for the good news, but these blessed events are not the good news itself.

The good news that Jesus was driven to preach, the good news that Paul was driven to preach when he said to the Corinthians, "Woe to me if I preach not the gospel," is the good news of the cross, the good news of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. You and I may experience God's "rationing" of his miraculous healings, both when Jesus walked the earth and in our own day, as a kind of calculating coldness. In reality, it is a merciful gesture on his part. It does not permit us to mistake the sign of the good news, the premonition of the good news, the foretaste of the good news, for the good news itself. God doesn't want us to develop a taste for mass-produced table wine when he's got a case of the finest champagne he wants to share with us. God doesn't want us to get too accustomed to travelling coach, because our destiny is first class. Our inclination is not to ask too much of God, but to depend on him for too little. The gospel that the healing miracles point us to, the gospel that drove Paul to become all things to all people, is the gospel that what Jesus did on the cross makes us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. That's good news. Amen.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Saturday (St Anskar)

The day's accomplishments include refining and printing my homily for tomorrow, revising and repurposing a text for the Last Sunday after Epiphany for use in Pekin next Sunday, processing a short stack of deferred emails, and cleaning off my computer desktop (basically: filing), with three loads of laundry and significant treadmill time thrown in. Departed mid-evening for a Decatur-area Hampton Inn. Like Lincoln, their earlier liturgy is at 7:30, so even though it's only a 45 minute drive, it's helpful not to have to make it at zero-dark-thirty.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Candlemas

Our brief sojourn in Belize was everything it needed to be in terms of rest and recreation. A warm beach is certainly my "happy place." We actually returned to North America yesterday afternoon, but the airline scheduling gods determined that we needed a gradual re-entry, so our layover in Dallas was actually an overnight. We enjoyed a superb Tex-Mex dinner there last night. This morning I caught up on some odds and ends of email-generated work in our hotel room. Then we boarded the 12:50 non-stop to Springfield, and were home before 3:30.