Friday, March 16, 2018


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

Thursday, March 15, 2018


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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday (James T. Holley)

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting the rough draft of this Sunday's homily (St Thomas', Glen Carbon).
  • Consulted briefly with the Archdeacon on an administrative issue.
  • Took a phone call from a retired bishop seeking deeper insight into something I had posted on my blot about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Attended to some details of a trip I'm taking next week to Maryland to receive a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church? (Why am I doing this in Maryland? Long and complicated story.)
  • Took an impromptu meeting with the cathedral Altar Guild head, wherein we discussed the Chrism Mass and Holy Week.
  • Attended to making sure a couple of people got paid from my discretionary fund who needed to get pain from my discretionary fund.
  • Took an online survey expressing my opinions about last week's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Connected with the church I'm visiting this Sunday to confirm that they are indeed expecting me. (Seems like *over*abundanc of caution, but one would not want to arrive for a visitation unannounced ... or perhaps one *would.* Hmmm ... )
  • Stopped by China 1 to pick up some lunch. Got it home and discovered they had given me somebody else's order (and, it turned out, him mine). Made the trip back, got the right lunch, but since I was running on fumes, had to stop for gas on the way home.
  • Took Brenda to a dental appointment.
  • Processed a short stack of late-arriving emails.
  • Attended to an administrative issue involving Gnosis, our database software.
  • Moved the ball down the field several years toward the completion of the liturgy program for the Chrism Mass.
  • Stepped over to the next football field and did the same thing with respect to travel arrangements for a June visit to the diocese from the Bishop of Tabora and his wife.
  • Took the rough notes of my Lenten weeknight presentation tomorrow night at St George's Belleville, fleshed them out a good bit, printed them and put them in my car, which I have discovered is a "best practice" in such matters.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon for Lent IV

St Christopher's, Rantoul--John 3:14-21, Numbers 21:4-9

I grew up in a tea-totaling environment, so I was never conditioned to hang out it bars. But when Brenda and I were living in California about 20 years ago and the state banned smoking in all restaurants and bars, we discovered that we often preferred to have dinner in the bar or lounge rather than the main dining area of a restaurant. A cocktail lounge is a very … what shall we say? … a very fluid place, is it not? It can be a place of relaxation and enjoyment and camaraderie with friends. And it can also be a place of mystery and … perhaps, mischief. After spending time in a bar, people often end up saying and doing things they later come to regret. And the consistent thing about such places is that the lights are always dim, sometimes so dim that you can barely see what you’re drinking or eating. I don’t know that we can exactly say why, but I don’t know of anybody, myself included, who would enjoy being in a lounge with the lights turned up to what we would consider normal in, say, an office, or a supermarket, or even a living room.

And I can’t help but be reminded of this whenever I read the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of St John’s gospel: “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” I’m not saying that everything that goes on in a bar is evil, but a lot of evil things go on in bars, and it’s really no wonder at all that we like to keep the lights low in such places, because when the lights are low, we can’t quite see what’s going on, and that inability to see enables us to deceive ourselves about ourselves. Darkness can be downright addicting, because it’s a powerful anesthetic; it relieves the pain of what we might see if we looked at ourselves clearly, in the cold light of day. Unfortunately, addiction is a form of bondage, and our attachment to darkness can also prevent us from seeing and knowing our true selves, and from living the lives to which God called us when he made us.

Jesus addresses this precarious human condition in his well-known dialogue with the Jewish leader Nicodemus as recorded for us in the third chapter of St John’s gospel. Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness to pick his brain about some questions that were really bugging him. Jesus says, “You’ve got to be born again,” and Nicodemus says, “Well, how does that work, exactly?” and Jesus goes on about spirit and flesh and water and such things and finally arrives where we pick it up in this morning’s gospel reading:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The antidote to what ails us as human beings is something Jesus calls Eternal Life.  Eternal Life is what can lead us out of the darkness to which we have become addicted. Eternal Life is what can free us from our fear of seeing ourselves clearly and knowing ourselves truly. Jesus wants to give us Eternal Life, and he tells Nicodemus that we receive Eternal Life by looking at him specifically as he is “lifted up.” And when he says, “lifted up,” he means something very specific.

But before we can go there, we need to make sure we’re up to speed on the Old Testament reference Jesus makes when he says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.”  Our first reading from the Book of Numbers told us the story. The ancient Hebrews had been freed from slavery in Egypt but were wandering in the Sinai desert for a generation under Moses’ leadership. Their camp was infested by poisonous snakes and people were getting bitten and dying. The Lord told Moses to make an image—a statue, in effect—of the sort of snake that was bothering them, and he told Moses to lift this faux-snake up where people could see it. Moses did just that, and, sure enough, when snake-bite victims looked up at it, they were healed.

So what Jesus is telling Nicodemus, in effect, is that all human beings are snake-bit—snake-bit by the power of Sin and Death. This is why we like the lights turned low in bars; this is why we prefer darkness over light; this is why we are afraid to see ourselves and know ourselves as we really are.

And what, then, do we need to do? We need to look up and live. We need to look on Jesus, lifted up for us as Moses’ serpent statue was lifted up for the people in the wilderness. And how is Jesus lifted up for us? He is lifted up on the cross. He is lifted up in his resurrection. He is lifted up in his ascension back to the right hand of the Father. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Unfortunately, one inference many of us make when we encounter passages of scripture such as this is that “eternal life” is a possession that we own and have stashed away so we can forget about it until we need it. We think of Eternal Life the way we think of a coin collection, or a stamp collection, or a baseball card collection. It’s stuck away in a drawer. We know it’s there, and we’re glad it’s there, but we may go several days without thinking about it. We hope that it will increase in value, and that should the day come that we need to cash it in, we’ll be able to do so at a profit. But eternal Life isn’t something we need now, it’s something we’ll need later. We have it now in order to have it later. Someone might ask us, “Are you saved? Do you have Eternal Life?” and we’ll want to say, “Why sure. I ‘looked up’ at Jesus, so I’m saved. I have Eternal Life. I don’t exactly need it yet, but I have it for when I do need it.”  

But I’m here today to tell you something very different than that. I’m here to tell you that looking “up” at Jesus is not simply a one-time move, a mere glance. Rather, it is a matter of gazing at the “lifted up” Jesus and keeping our gaze fixed there until we are completely healed. And what makes this kind of challenging is that when we look up at Jesus, he looks back at us, and his gaze can be quite uncomfortable, because penetrating light emanates from his eyes. We don’t like being looked at by penetrating light. It’s like if somebody all of a sudden kicks up the lights in the cocktail lounge at 11 PM. We might see things we’d prefer not to see. We might feel just a little bit … judged. As Jesus tells Nicodemus,  
…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
You see, as long as we think of Eternal Life as a possession that we acquire and then hide away until we need it—that is, as we tend to think of it, when we die—then we are subject to what I might call photophobia—and I’m not talking about fear of having your picture taken(!) but fear of light. Jesus says, “… everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” But when we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, looking up and persisting in looking up at him “lifted up” for our salvation, then Eternal Life becomes a present reality of our experience, something that we live in and benefit from even now, and not merely a future hope. When we can make this sort of mental move, we then have the resources at our disposal to be able to live fully in the present and fully in freedom: Free from self-deception, free from fear, and free from anxiety.

Somebody get the lights. Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Travel: Time at Camp Allen to pack in a leisurely fashion. I was on the 11am shuttle to the airport in Houston. Enjoyed seat conversation with the most recently retired bishop of Maryland, who now assists in Virginia. I was there in plenty of time to enjoy a burger at a sit-down restaurant before boarding the 2:20 to Dallas, where my layover was nearly three hours. It was a little early for dinner, but it was then or never, so I had some barbecue. The 6:30 departure to Springfield put us on the ground right on time at 8:30. Unpacked, set all the clocks in the house ahead one hour, and otherwise got ready for a fairly early departure to my visitation to St Christopher's, Rantoul tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 4

... and another one is in the books. Here I am with my table mates. We've been together since the meeting right here at Camp Allen two years ago, and will remain together through General Convention, after which we will get shuffled and re-dealt.

This meeting is a day shorter than has been the case for several years--four full days instead of five. The compressed schedule is more demanding, to be sure, with less down time for rest or recreation. But, on balance, I prefer it. I am especially grateful not to be here over a Sunday.

The Eucharist this morning (straight Rite II, Prayer C) was celebrated by the Presiding Bishop. The preacher was Jeff Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of Texas. He did a fine job. I always enjoy hearing other bishops preach to bishops. They invariably bring their lives and ministries to the task in ways that their hearers can readily identify with.

The morning's work was a continuation of yesterday's conversation around the proposal to make the President of the House of Deputies a paid position. It seems to be an emotionally fraught subject. Much of our time was spent in executive session (informally, since we weren't technically under Roberts' Rules). There was a lot of parsing the distinction between leadership and governance. Lunch was spent in Province groups, so I was with bishops from the 14 dioceses of Province V, where we talked about ... you guessed it ... the matter of paying the PHOD. I think it's safe to say there are efforts underway to amend the resolution in a manner that will not yield a legislative showdown, with winners and losers, but produce a win-win solution. We'll see what happens in Austin.

The afternoon's activity consisted of our regular "Fireside Chat." This has always happened on an evening, so it was a little weird. There were even images of burning logs projected on the screens. The Fireside Chat, at which the Presiding Bishop ... well, presides ... is just a time for whatever ... this and that ... odds and ends of announcements, publicity schticks, and soapbox speeches (with a ready hook). 

We found ourselves finished early, around 2:30. The next item on the agenda was a liturgy for the Renewal of Ordination Vows, scheduled for 4:00. We made a collective executive decision to just go ahead and do it right then. There was no actual vote taken, but I would have been in the Aye column. Most of our time has been pretty nonstop mentally demanding, and there was a palpable sense of fatigue in the room. We adjourned upstairs to the chapel to renew our vows.

With a chunk of time on my hands, I was resolved to get a stiff dose of exercise. Serendipitously, my good friend the Bishop of Dallas had the same idea, so we walked a full four miles together, solving most of the problems of the church and starting in on those of the world along the way.

After cleaning up, it was time to join the pre-dinner hospitality hour. Dinner on the last night of HOB is always banquet-style, with white table cloths and table wine. The collegiality is always a blessing.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 3

We have new stricter social media rules now in the HOB--no photos taken during a session without the permission of those in it. So ... I'm having to be more creative about finding pics for the blog, because I'm not going to take a panoramic group shot and then contact everyone whose balding head shows in the photo!

Once again, the day began with Eucharist. This time, though, I took a pass, and opted for a vigorous walk on a brisk morning. Having looked at the liturgy sheet in advance, there were enough triggers that I knew the net spiritual effect for me would be negative. #selfcare  I will say, however, that HOB worship has gotten incrementally less problematic during the tenure of the current Presiding Bishop, and I give props for that.

When we convened at 10:15, there were the usual announcements, then a whirlwind set of summary reports from bishop members of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. The full reports that they were summarizing, containing substantive and enormously significant resolutions being submitted to General Convention, are enormous--including revision of the Prayer Book, and it wasn't quite fair to anyone that they had to be presented in such a temporally condensed manner. And it was even less fair that our consideration of the material had to occur in less than an hour. This took the form of Indaba groups. We adjourned to breakout rooms in groups of about 20 each. The Indaba process involves each one present speaking his or her heart, in turn, into the center of the group, with no crosstalk or discussion in the conventional sense. We were asked to respond to, "How do you imagine liturgy in the future of the Episcopal Church? What are your hopes? What are your fears?" 

After lunch, we heard from bishop members on the Task Force on the Episcopate. This group was created by the last General Convention to study the ministry of bishops, how they are chosen, and how the ones chosen are formed for their ministry. The driving urge is a sense on the part of some that the House of Bishops should be much more "diverse" in terms of gender, race, and class. The proposals they came up with are fairly minor technical revisions of the current canons on election, consent, and continuing education. Once again, we broke into Indaba groups and responded to questions about how we envision the ministry of bishops in TEC going forward. I'm not supposed to pass on anything I hear in an Indaba group, but if you'd like to speculate that most bishops are in favor of the ministry of bishops, you wouldn't be off the mark.

The last hour of our afternoon before Evensong was given over to a report from the bishop members of yet another task force, this one having to do with "leadership compensation." That sounds innocuously bureaucratic, but it is, in fact, politically charged. There is a strong move afoot to make the President of the House of Deputies a compensated position. Advocates would say that the job has evolved from merely holding the gavel when the HOD is in session every three years to something that is incontrovertibly full time, and therefore deserving of compensation. Opponents argue that the ministry of bishops is distinctive, and cannot be understood as in parallel to what the Deputies do. We cannot create a two-headed monster, where the Presiding Bishop and the PHOD are, in effect, co-primates. We decided to forego Indaba groups on this issue and hash it out in plenary tomorrow morning. Stay tuned. This one will be big before it goes away.

After dinner, I attended a voluntary meeting with members of the Marriage Task Force, along with a handful of others. This was an opportunity to dig more deeply into their convention resolutions, which have the potential to be seismic. They are proposing a "surgical" revision of the Prayer Book that would add to the BCP the rites currently authorized just "in the ether" for same-sex marriage, along with a concomitant change to the catechism that would make marriage gender neutral. If approved this year, that would constitute a "first reading" of Prayer Book revision, a process that would be cemented by subsequent approval in 2021. The kicker here, of course, is that while a diocesan bishop can decline to permit use of a trial rite "in the ether," a bishop cannot proscribe use of material in the Book of Common Prayer. I cannot predict how this will all play out. There is a wide variety of opinion swirling around in the mix, and the legislative process at General Convention is a real sausage machine. But it will be a hot issue. And, to be frank, it deserved a lot more consideration than it is getting at this meeting of the House. If the events following 2003 were an earthquake, approval of anything like the Taskforce on Marriage's proposal would be a catastrophic aftershock. It is borderline dereliction of duty that this issue alone was not the focus of table talk, an Indaba session, and plenary discussion at this last meeting of the HOB before General Convention.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 2

It's gloriously springtime in the piney woods of east Texas, as this shot of a blooming redbud show. Is it also springtime for evangelism in the Episcopal Church? The House of Bishops spent most of another day examining the subject. 

Once again, we began with a celebration of the Eucharist, at which the Bishop of the Dominican Republic presided (in Spanish) and the Bishop of Indianapolis preached (about "relational courage"). We then spent some time in table groups with another set of starter questions, this time derived from some of the vows bishops take at their consecration, and intended to elicit personal narrative about speaking the gospel into both ordinary and demanding situations. 

The final hour or so was given over to more consideration of the ministry of Renewal Works, with its head, the Revd Jay Sidebotham, leading the discussion. There was a particular emphasis on how Renewal Works attempts to translate the process from the pan-evangelical milieu which is its origin into language and categories that are more comfortable and familiar to Episcopalians. I told a colleague in passing walking out of the session that the discussion felt to me like doing surgery on metastatic cancer (not that I've ever done that, so ... ): the diseased tissue is so finely interwoven with healthy tissue that it's impossible to separate the two. Much of what I heard rang very true. In assessing the spiritual vitality of an Episcopal congregation, questions around the liturgy and the experience of the Eucharist need to be asked. As Catholic Christians, we are more communal and less individualistic in the way we articulate and engage Christian faith and practice. At the same time, I get very jittery when I hear resistance to expressions like "salvation by grace" or "the authority of scripture," or reinterpretations of such expressions so as to rob them of their classic meaning. (See my comments on Day 1 about getting comfortable with evangelism just by redefining it.)

After lunch, there were a number of breakout groups available to us on a range of topics broadly related to evangelism. I will confess--and don't judge me, because I've probably already judged myself more harshly--that I elected to take advantage of the beautiful weather (sunny, 60s, low humidity) for a long and brisk walk through the woods. Considering the attractive unhealthiness of much of the Camp Allen food, exercise was what I needed. I did think about evangelism while walking, however!

At 3:30, we reconvened in plenary session, and after a couple of preliminaries, back into formal business session. (In my time in the HOB, this is the first time the business session has not occurred as the last item on the agenda on the last day of the meeting.) We adopted a statement about #MeToo, with plans for activities looking into that subject at this summer's General Convention. We also re-0pened consideration of the gun violence resolution, agreeing to look at an entirely rewritten substitute for the text we talked about yesterday. Instead of jabbing the NRA directly, it attempts to ride the wave created by the students from Parkland themselves. 

I'm not going to reproduce the text here; you can find it pretty easily using a search engine, I'm sure. It passed unanimously, which means I voted for it. Am I comfortable with every aspect of it? No. I'm highly allergic to any language suggesting that God has a "dream." God is sovereign. He doesn't have dreams; he has plans! And I have no intention of participating in any sort of protest march on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. But politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. So I swallow those bits of discomfort for the sake of the following language, which I moved as an amendment, and which was adopted into the final version of the statement: 
In addition, we pledge ourselves to bring the values of the gospel to bear on a society that increasingly glorifies violence and trivializes the sacredness of every human life.
Legislative action to make military-grade weapons and ammunition less accessible may indeed save some lives in the near term. (In voting for this, have I violated my rubric about taking a stand on an issues about which Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience might legitimately disagree? I'm not sure, but it's difficult for me to imagine a compelling moral argument for bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.) But we would be derelict in taking such action if we do not at the same time try to prevent mass violence that might occur ten and twenty years from now. Popular culture (music, video games, etc.) is one of the toxic ingredients in the stew that leads to tragic events like Parkland.

After Evening Prayer, most of the bishops went off site for "class" dinners. My Class of 2011 (all those elected in 2010) perpetuated our tradition, when we are at Camp Allen, of going to Chuy's, a chain Mexican restaurant in College Station (about a 40 minute drive). I am blessed to be part of an amazing class. We have become really good friends over the years. We had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 1

Today was about evangelism. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been clear from the beginning of his tenure that evangelism and racial reconciliation were going to be the touchstones of his ministry, and he has remained true to his word. 

We began the day with a celebration of the Eucharist at which Bishop Curry was the preacher. He emphasized the need for the work of evangelism to be rooted in Christian formation, and also got into the fray around the use of the word "Lord," about which many in the church are sensitive because of perceived patriarchal overtones. He acknowledged the difficulty, but basically said, "Get used to it. The earliest Christian creed was 'Jesus is Lord.' It's part of our vocabulary." He suggested reclaiming the work away from connotations of oppression or exploitation, remembering the important corollary: If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not Lord--whoever or whatever "Caesar" may be to it. It was an encouraging homily. 

The balance of our morning consisted of table group conversation, using starter questions that many at my table, at least, found a bit awkward. Their purpose, though flawed in execution, was to elicit  personal stories--stories of encounters with divine love in the midst of life and work. The ability to narrate one's experience of God in a personal way is certainly a key element in the process of evangelism.

The bulk of the afternoon was devoted to presentations and discussion about the aspect of the Renewal Works process known as "Reveal"--a spiritual growth assessment inventory that parishioners complete online, and which yields a "Spiritual Vitality Score." There was a robust discussion about the results from the 157 Episcopal parishes that have gone through the process. The data are less than uplifting. I can only observe ... the truth is never your enemy, even when it is uncomfortable. My attention was piqued in the plenary discussion when I heard definitions of evangelism that speak of "going out and discerning where God is acting and trying to be in that place, listening to the stories of those who are there," or that "spiritual vitality is a fruit of working for justice, and not an end in itself." This is a weak understanding of evangelism, on multiple levels. If we as a church are going to get comfortable with evangelism simply by redefining it, we're continuing a pattern of avoidance that will ultimately be institutionally fatal, and sooner than we think. I will say that I appreciated one response that named justice as a higher priority than spiritual renewal. There's a lot to be said for honesty.

Toward the end of the afternoon, we move into a formal business session--with motions and seconds and that sort of parliamentary procedure. Much of this is routine housekeeping stuff. We did approve a revision of the "Core Values" of the House, and some amendments to our Rules of Order--pretty technical stuff. The most spirited discussion was around a proposed Mind of the House resolution that addresses the National Rifle Association, sharply criticizing its rhetoric. It first appeared destined for quick approval, but bishops cannot resist the impulse to wordsmith most anything in plenary session, so, to my surprise, it ended up getting tabled to an extension of our business session tomorrow that had been going to devoted to only one issue (a statement on sexual harassment). Some interested parties met this evening and, I am told, drastically reworked it to minimize potential offense toward Episcopalian NRA members. (For the record, I spoke against the resolution, not because I am chummy with the NRA, or because I like guns, but because the positions of the NRA can plausibly be held by a Christian of goodwill and an informed conscience.) We'll see what happens tomorrow.

We concluded with Evening Prayer, a "hospitality" hour, and dinner.

Monday, March 5, 2018


A day of travel and getting settled ahead of the spring meeting of the House of Bishops. Left the house in time to board the 7:09am American Eagle departure to Dallas, where there was just enough time to get to my connecting gate and board a flight to Houston. Successfully navigated to the designated place to meet the shuttle to Camp Allen, along with three other bishops (on this run). Got into my room, unpacked, snacked a little, then attacked the 39 emails that had arrived while I was in transit. Relaxed time just hanging out with colleagues. The work begins tomorrow.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday in Lent

Got to hang out this morning where I know I have a guaranteed seat--the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Springfield. Preached at 8:00; presided and preached at 10:30. One of the idiosyncrasies of St Paul's is the distribution of attendance between the two services: It's essentially even. There are actually more families with children at the earlier celebration than at the "main" one. This certainly bucks the general trend. At any rate, the Third Sunday in Lent was duly observe on both occasions.

Sermon for Lent III

Springfield Cathedral--John 2:13-22

Today’s gospel story is a familiar one. Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem, the most sacred piece of real estate in Judaism, and completely makes a scene. He improvises a whip and drives out merchants whose business it is to sell small birds for people to offer to the priests for sacrifice, as well as those who changed out Roman currency, which was unacceptable in the temple because it had the graven image of Caesar on it. He sternly rebukes everyone involved in these activities and even throws some table over. This incident is known as the “cleansing” of the Temple.

It’s a hard story to interpret. It looks for all the world like Jesus is having a temper tantrum, that he’s just “losing it,” causing damage to property and livelihood, and physically assaulting people. The difficulties arise from two places. First, it’s not at all clear precisely what anyone was doing wrong. The objects of Jesus’ apparent anger were actually helping people keep laws that God himself had ordained; we can read about it in Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy. Low-income Jews were allowed to offer a dove, probably what we would call a pigeon, rather than a lamb or a goat, and they could conveniently purchase such a bird right there in the Temple. In all likelihood, even Mary and Joseph had made that very transaction when they fulfilled the Law of Moses by bringing Jesus to the Temple when he was forty days old.

More significantly, this passage is difficult because Christian theology is invested in the belief that Jesus lived a completely sinless life, a life of perfect openness to God and utter transparency to other people, living in love and charity with his neighbors. But doesn’t giving in to anger, acting out in anger, just in itself give evidence of sin? Isn’t anger, in fact, one of the seven deadly sins?

To try and untangle this knot, let’s first remind ourselves what the purpose of the Temple was. While the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, under the leadership of Moses, after leaving slavery in Egypt behind but before settling in the Promised Land, maybe around 1200 years or so before Christ, they began observing what eventually became a rather elaborate system of atoning for their sins, both individual and communal, by sacrificing animals—sheep, goats, cattle, and, as we have seen, birds. The people would bring these sacrifices to the priests, who would perform the ritual slaughter and otherwise fulfill the requirements of the Law. This was the way that the Lord himself had provided by which they could remain reconciled with him. It needed to be done repeatedly on a regular basis. There’s a word that comes out of this system that might be familiar to long-time Episcopalians, because it was found in previous editions of the Prayer Book, and that’s “propitiation.” The system of animal sacrifices propitiated God, it satisfied the holy demands of God’s justice and allowed God’s forgiveness and mercy to flow.
So, the Temple was a place where transactional exchanges happened, a venue for “doing business” with God. The Temple figures quite prominently in both John’s gospel, which is where we are this morning, and in the three synoptic gospels. But the incidents are spread around, isolated from one another, so it’s easy to miss the connecting thread unless we make the effort. So let’s make the effort:

In the second chapter of Luke, we read about 40 day-old Jesus being “presented” in the Temple by his parents, with a dove to sacrifice, in fulfillment of the Law of Moses that firstborn children must be “redeemed” by offering a sacrifice; otherwise they belong directly to God. Later in that same second chapter of Luke we find the account of the Holy Family making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when Jesus was twelve years old. When the celebration is over, everybody heads back to Nazareth, evidently part of a large group, when Mary and Joseph notice Jesus is missing. They go back to Jerusalem and search all over the place and finally find him in the Temple, essentially holding court with the learned teachers of Israel, causing them to marvel at his knowledge and wisdom. In John’s gospel, a great deal of the narrative takes place, if not right in the Temple, then in the area nearby; the Temple gets mentioned several times. Again in Luke, in chapter 21, when we read about the poor widow who donates two coins, everything she has, the recipient of that donation that Jesus commends as an example—the recipient is the Temple offering box. In both Mark and John we find references to Jesus making the audacious claim, while standing in the very shadow of the Temple, that if the Temple should be destroyed, he would raise it up again in three days. Finally, all three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—tell us that, at the very moment that Jesus died on the cross, there was an earthquake, and veil of the Temple—the veil that screened off the Holy of Holies, the holiest part of the holy place that sat on holy ground, where only the High Priest ever entered, and even him only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—the veil of the Temple was torn in two. Now, we can add to all this the probability that the first readers of the gospels, certainly John’s gospel, were aware of the Temple’s destruction by Roman legions a generation or so later than the events that the gospels describe.

So, this is all the context in which we need to interpret the so-called “cleansing” of the Temple. What does this all add up to? What do we see? We see Jesus gradually, step by step, claiming authority over the Temple. More significantly, we see Jesus claiming authority over the very notion of “doing business” with God. It’s never stated overtly, but, when you connect the dots, what it all adds up to is that Jesus, in himself, replaces the function of the Temple. Jesus is the “place” where we “take care of business” with God. The Temple has accomplished its mission, passed the baton to Jesus, and now stands relieved. But it’s even more pointed, more specific, than that. It is specifically in his body that Jesus replaces the Temple. The Temple, as a place of sacrifice, had the veil of the Holy of Holies torn in two at the moment the body of Jesus died on the cross, the sacrifice at that moment being complete.
Now, when we start speaking of the literal, historical body of Christ, it’s impossible not to make the leap to the two other ways that expression is used in the Christian community. Throughout the letters of our patron saint, the Apostle Paul, the community of the church is referred to repeatedly as the “body of Christ.” And when we dive more deeply into the mystery of the church as the Body of Christ, we discover the sacrament of Holy Communion, where we are fed by the Body of Christ. Indeed, the Body of Christ—the church and the sacrament—is the means by which we conduct our business with God. It’s how we transact our relationship with God.

Christianity, you know, is not a “Lone Ranger” religion. We don’t do individual side deals with God. Our business with God gets transacted in community, through the ecclesial Body of Christ and sustained by the sacramental Body of Christ. We are “union labor,” and our relationship with God gets transacted according to the “union’ contract,” which was signed, sealed, and delivered on the cross, where Jesus made, “by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” And every time we come together to transact the holy mysteries of the Eucharist, we connect once again with that sacrifice, fulfilling the command of Christ that we “continue a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” That language should be pretty familiar to you!
Looping back now, we can Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple a little more clearly. We trivialize it if we just chalk it up to Jesus losing his temper or see it as some sign of his full humanity. He was “cleansing” the Temple because he was about to replace it with his own self, and become in his person the venue for doing business with God. So … let’s get down to business. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday (St Chad)

  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of a small administrative chore that was waiting for me on my desk. Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of ongoing issues.
  • Edited, refined, formatted, printed, and scheduled for internet publication my homily for Lent III, this Sunday at Springfield Cathedral.
  • Kept a scheduled appointment with a Hindu leader from Nevada who was in town to open both houses of the Illinois legislature with a Hindu prayer earlier in the morning. It was essentially a meet-and-greet. He seemed interested in my assessment of the state of "religion" in the country and the world.
  • Drove the few blocks up to St John's hospital to look in on Fr John Henry, who had spent the night there as a cardiac patient. He was in good spirits, and looked forward to the installation of a pacemaker later in the day. Prayed and anointed.
  • Stopped by Taco Gringo for lunch and took it home to eat. While in line at the drive-thru, took a substantive phone call from one of our clergy.
  • Performed the same tasks for my Lent IV homily (St Christopher's, Rantoul) as I had done earlier for Lent III. Why am I so far ahead? Because I'll be gone Monday through Saturday next week at the House of Bishops in Texas.
  • Laid down the broad strokes of my next Lenten series teaching gig at St George's, Belleville on the 15th.
  • Repaired to the cathedral for an Ignatian-style meditation on the gospel reading for the daily office--Mark's version of the "stilling of the storm."
  • Dealt by email with a pastoral-administrative matter that involved metaphorically using the business end of my crozier. Not necessarily a pleasant experience for the one being "crozed," I would expect.  Nor for the one doing the crozing.
  • Reviewed the latest edited version of the next teaching video in the "Seven Marks of Discipleship" series. Gave it a thumbs-up, with a request for a small tweak.
  • Worked on my Palm Sunday sermon, taking if from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Routine task: scan accumulated hard copy; tag and appropriately categorize.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday (St David)

Whenever air travel is involved, there are so many things that can go wrong--and have gone wrong for me from time to time--that I am immensely grateful when everything proceeds as planned. Having gotten multiple email warnings from United Airlines last night about weather in Chicago potentially messing with my itinerary, I was apprehensive. But it all went like clockwork. I left Camp Weed at 0845 and was turning the rental car in at Alamo around 10:30. Bag check and security went smoothly. We pushed back right on time at 11:45. I had a seat with plenty of legroom and got some good reading done during the flight. There was a long enough layover at O'Hare to allow me to use the United Club wifi to keep on top of incoming email, and the flight to Springfield, which is always the weakest link in the chain, boarded and departed on schedule. United didn't lose my luggage, and I was home just a bit past 5:00. Home is always good.