Sunday, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Up and out the door with Brenda at 0715. Pointed the YFNBmobile in a southerly and easterly direction, arriving at Trinity, Mt Vernon right in time for the 0930 Christian education hour. At the invitation of the rector, I presided over a discussion of the fourth promise from the Baptismal Covenant, which is to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself." It was a rich and lively conversation. At the 1030 Mass it was my joy to confirm Abby Bruce, granddaughter of one of the late pillars of the parish. Following coffee hour, I met for a but with the Mission Leadership Team to talk about how they're coming with the Mission Strategy Report that is due (from all the Eucharistic Communities) in June. We were back on the road at 1325 and home at 1545 (aka 3:45).

Sermon for V Easter

Trinity, Mt Vernon--I John 3:14-24, John 14:15-21

In my nearly thirty years of ordained ministry, I have found that presiding at a funeral—although always a solemn occasion and often accompanied by great sadness—is, among all the varied duties and responsibilities of a priest or bishop, the most personally fulfilling and spiritually rewarding. There is something about a funeral that cuts to the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person has died. Someone who was part of a network of love and esteem and shared experience is now, by all appearances, unplugged from that network. The whole purpose of the burial rites of the Church, then, is to call appearances into question, to cast doubt on what seems to be undeniably real, to shout “Wait just a minute! This isn’t really the end. Those who have been united with Christ in a death like his will also share with him in a resurrection like his. The gift of God through Christ Jesus our Lord is eternal life.” And so we read scriptures and sing hymns and offer prayers and hear sermons that articulate this peculiar hope that we have as Christians, this odd conviction that death is not what it appears to be, that it is not, in fact, the final word.

“Eternal life” —this is the central summary of the Christian hope. It is an expression that we take so much for granted, that we often forget that its use in the New Testament is confined to the writings traditionally attributed to St John—one gospel and three short epistles. The concept, of course, is found elsewhere, but the expression itself is only encountered in John’s writings. And as we read a lot from both the gospel and first epistle of John during the Easter season, it figures prominently in the Church’s liturgical worship during Eastertide, as well it should.

I would suggest that it’s safe to assume that, when we hear the expression “eternal life,” for most of us, the image that comes to mind is the proverbial “pie in the sky bye and bye.” In other words, eternal life is a future experience, something that we will know about, something that will happen to us, after life as we presently know it is over, after these mortal bodies have given out, and we’re into whatever comes next. Will we qualify? Will we make the cut? Will we indeed receive the reward of eternal life? Have we prayed enough? Have we done a sufficient number of good deeds and avoided a sufficient number of bad deeds? Have we been generous and unselfish enough to be found worthy of eternal life? Has our faith been strong enough? Have we believed the right things?

All these and a host of other similar nagging questions can haunt us right into the grave. They certainly lead to an inordinate focus on oneself—How am I doing? What does God think of me? Even what we do for others is ultimately a matter of enhancing our résumé, as it were, of accumulating accomplishments that look good on our record. Ironically, the notion of eternal life as something to be achieved in the future leads to a level of self -absorption that is itself counterproductive to “qualifying” for it.

Now, I am not one of those preachers who likes to exhibit his knowledge of New Testament Greek, mainly because my knowledge of New Testament Greek is pretty sketchy! But I do know a little bit—enough to see that we are confused about the meaning of Eternal Life mainly because we speak English, and St John did not. For one thing, there are two Greek words, both of which are rendered in English as “life.” One of these is bios, from which we get “biology.” Bios is life as we know it in the scientific technical sense—carbon compounds, amino acids, proteins, cells, organisms, and the like. When the processes that sustain bios cease, an organism dies.

The other Greek word for life is zoe. Beyond being a popular name for newborn girls for the last couple of decades, zoe has deeper implications, and is therefore difficult to explain precisely. It transcends the organic processes of molecular biology. It is life in a spiritual sense, not a scientific sense. Perhaps the expression “life force” may lead us somewhat into the meaning of zoe. At any rate, when St John uses the expression “eternal life,” it is eternal zoe that he is talking about, not eternal bios.

And the Greek noun at the root of the adjective which is translated “eternal” is aeon.
Aeon speaks of infinity, of freedom from borders and boundaries. Normally, we think of eternity as infinity of time—time that is of infinite duration, that just goes on forever and ever, without end. But the meaning of aeon is a little richer and more subtle than that. It points us to a notion of eternity that is not merely time going on and on and on, but a dimension of reality that is completely outside of time itself, above and beyond time. Of course, as creatures who are finite, who are, in effect, prisoners of time and space as we know them, it is difficult—impossible, actually—
for you and me to wrap our minds around such a concept. But I would suggest that to say God is “eternal” is to say that, to God, everything is “now,” what to us is “past” or “future” is always “present” to God. To have eternal life is to participate in God’s mode of being, to be set free from the prison of time.

So, when we look at the deep meaning of scriptural language, we are invited to go deeper than first impressions and common generalizations might take us. For instance, in the fifteenth verse of the third chapter of his first epistle, St John makes this rather bold claim: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Now, laying aside for the time being the startling implication about hatred harbored between siblings, let’s consider closely the final phrase of that verse: “...no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” John is speaking to situations and people that are of this world, of the present order of reality and experience. He’s not talking about “then and there”—he’s talking about “hear and now.” And in this context, he uses the present progressive tense: “...has eternal life abiding...”. Clearly, to St John, the expression “eternal life” denotes a quality of living, an inherent nature. It’s something we have—or not, as the case may be—now, in the present, not something we can only look forward to as a future reward, within the confining dimension of time.

To illustrate my point, let me make a comparison—a little far-fetched, perhaps, but hang in there with me—let me make a comparison between the institutions of the American presidency and the British monarchy. In November of 1952, there was a presidential election in which the two major candidates were Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower. As we know, General Eisenhower won that election, and he woke up on a Wednesday morning that November as the president-elect of the United States. It was a material certainty that he would be the next president. Yet, Harry Truman still lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. And with a war going on in Korea, if the North Koreans or the Chinese were to have made a significant move on, say, December 1, it would have been Truman, and not Eisenhower, who called the shots as to the American response. His term of office did not expire, and Eisenhower’s did not begin, until high noon on the third Tuesday in January 1953. Dwight Eisenhower had been duly elected President of the United States. The people had voiced their will. Yet, he had not one shred of presidential authority until the date specified in the constitution. When the Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief,” it was still for Truman.

Later the next year—that is, 1953—Elizabeth, the young adult Princess of Wales, was vacationing with her new husband, Philip, in a rather remote and somewhat wild area of east central Africa. It was while she was there that she got the news that her father, King George VI, had died suddenly. Before she was even aware of the fact, before the news had even had time to travel from England to Kenya, Princess Elizabeth had become Queen Elizabeth. Without any opportunity for a break-in period, she immediately bore the weight of the monarchy. The trappings, the protocol, the obligation of loyalty and affection on the part of British subjects that had been attached to her father, was now directed at Elizabeth. Yes, it is true, she had not yet been crowned. There was yet to be a formal ceremony in Westminster Abbey during which the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the crown of the realm on her head. But she was nevertheless queen even before she was crowned. The coronation was only a formal recognition and celebration of a condition that already existed, an experience that was already real.

Now, to connect the dots! The New Testament assures us that we are co-heirs with Christ of the kingdom of God. We may not have been crowned, but we have been baptized. Our status is a present condition, an experience in which we participate even now. We don’t have to wait for some future inauguration day at high noon before we can exercise the privileges that come with being a child of God and an heir of his kingdom, before we can enjoy Eternal Life, a “life force” without boundaries or limits. Our vocation, our calling, as followers of the Risen Christ, is to allow the gift of Eternal Life to “abide” within us.

Now, this is not just esoteric or abstract theology I’m talking about here; it has some very concrete and practical implications. One verse earlier in I John chapter three, the author tells us: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” The present experience of the gift of Eternal Life manifests itself in an ever-deepening love between those who participate in that gift. As we give Eternal Life permission to grow and flourish in our hearts, love grows with it. The two are inseparable. We become more dedicated to, more available to, more transparent to,
other people, especially those who are of the household of faith. We become Christ to one another, we bear Christ to one another. This is the flowering of the gift of Eternal Life as a present condition— that we are drawn outside ourselves, beyond ourselves. We’re no longer worried or consumed with making the grade, attaining Eternal Life as some future reward. We’ve already known it. We are secure in our position as forgiven sinners, as children of God and heirs of his kingdom. We don’t have to worry about ourselves any longer; we are free to focus on others. We are free to let love grow, and multiply itself, until the whole creation is renewed, and all things are brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made. Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Spent the first big chunk of the morning hand-writing greetings to clergy and spouses with nodal events (birthdays, anniversaries) in May. Put a couple of them in the mail right away because they're coming up soon.
  • Substantive phone conversation with one of our parish clergy over a couple of practical matters.
  • Spent the rest of the morning in a deep dive in commentaries on Mark's gospel, chapter four, as part of preparing to preach on June 17 at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • While still at home, took part in a video conference call meeting of the Forward Movement board.
  • Back at the office, Paige and I worked on recording the next segment of my catechetical video series on the marks of discipleship.
  • Got back to, and completed, my exegetical work on the passage from Mark 6.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a small range of issues in advance of his departure next week for six weeks in Sicily.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thursday

  • Robust treadmill workout to start the day. At the office around 0915.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of a brief bit of Communion Partners business.
  • Left a voicemail with a potential resource for parish conflict situations.
  • Sat down with Paige one last time for some final editing notes on the video/photo montage on the Triduum at the cathedral. It's now on the website and on Facebook.
  • Got to work taking my developed outline for a homily on Easter VI (May 6 at St John the Divine, Champaign) to the "rough draft" stage.
  • Broke for lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Back in the office and back to sermon writing, which I finished in due course.
  • Attended to some Forward Movement business ahead of a conference call meeting of the board tomorrow.
  • Solidified the makeup of a Clergy Compensation Task Force and gave marching orders to its members via email.
  • Performed some routine monthly calendar maintenance chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

St Mark

  • Ordinary weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed the annotated the credit card statement I found on my desk when I arrived.
  • Sent a condolence note by email to a lay leader who has suffered a recent death in the family.
  • Tied up some administrative loose ends.
  • Sat with my personal and exegetical notes on the readings for Pentecost toward the end of arriving at a homiletical message statement for what I will say when I step into the pulpit at Emmanuel, Champaign on May 20.
  • I had to interrupt that work to keep an 11am appointment with two representatives of the Church Pension Group, in town to explain a new business group within CPG dedicated to leveraging their robust database on clergy training, ordination, deployment, compensation,and insurance usage, as well as trends in parishes and geographic areas toward the end of resourcing bishops and diocesan leaders and administrators for working more effectively. Overall, I was impressed.
  • Attended Mass for St Mark's Day in the cathedral chapel.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Back to that sermon message task. It's like giving birth, but I was eventually delivered.
  • Finally got around to making air travel arrangements for General Convention in July. I guess that now means I have to actually go.
  • Spent intense time with a couple of commentaries on St Mark's gospel, focusing on the passage appointed from Proper 4, June 3, when I will be visiting Alton Parish. Made lots of notes.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After dinner, at home: Made the tentative itinerary of Bishop Elias' and Lucy's visit to the diocese in June at bit less tentative, attended to a project on behalf of the Communion Partners, and looked over some materials in advance of a Friday conference call meeting of the Forward Movement board.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday (Melanesian Martyrs)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Began to work on editing and formatting my sermon for this Sunday (Trinity, Mt Vernon). Noticed that I was feeling vaguely out of sorts. Within about 30 minutes it became clear that I was having a kidney stone attack. Not my first rodeo. I held out until I could not longer really concentrate on my work and then told the staff that I was heading to the ER. (St John's Hospital is only about a mile away.) It wasn't horribly crowded, and they got me diagnosed, hooked up with a pain killer, and discharged in a little over two hours. I was home with KFC for lunch only a little later than I otherwise would have been. One of the more satisfactory ER experiences.
  • Back in the office, I completed the sermon work I had begun in the morning, before heading out for a couple of personal errands (one of which was fill a pain-killer prescription, the need for which had reasserted itself).
  • Sat down with Paige to watch the rough cut of the "Holy Week at the Cathedral" video she's put together and make some editing suggestions. (I'm fully capable of imagining *how* I want video edited. Just could never learn how to actually *do* it.)
  • Did a prayerful drive-by of the readings for Proper 6 (June 17 in Mt Carmel).
  • Culled and straightened the rat's nest that is usually the top of my desk and my credenza. This is more or less an annual chore, though I should do it more frequently.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Once in a while I don't have a Sunday visitation on my calendar, and today was one of those occasions. So I arranged with the Dean to be the celebrant at the 1030 cathedral liturgy. With such a relaxed time frame, I was able to knock off task planning for two significant projects at home before I had to head down to St Paul's. The afternoon and evening were devoted to more domestic pursuits: A long walk through Washington Park and a lot of scanning of old photos. There was also a Cubs game involved.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday (St Anselm)

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday (St Alphege)

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

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

Sermon for III Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday (George Selwyn)

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday (William Law)

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Easter Friday

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Easter Thursday

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

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter Wednesday

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter Tuesday

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter

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

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

Easter Homily

Springfield Cathedral


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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