Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost

It was a big day at Emmanuel, Champaign, the concluding gala of their year-long celebration of the centennial of their architecturally significant church building. But one merciful detail was that there was no 0800 service today, so Brenda and I got to enjoy breakfast at our hotel before reporting for duty in the sacristy at 0845. Having gotten vested, including a wearable portable loudspeaker (of the sort museum guides use), we ambled up to a parking lot a couple of blocks away which was the site of a school building where the first Episcopal worship service in Chambana took place. We had some words and some prayers there, and then processed--with a brass quartet, a choir in full voice, and a fire department escort, a few blocks away, the site of the second place Emmanuel met. More words and prayers. Then on our way singing back to the present century-old church. I knocked on the door with my crozier and cried, "Let the doors be opened." And they were. And the last folks got in just as the rains came. We continued with a solemn liturgy that included three baptisms, four adult confirmations, and one reception. After Mass we consumed the product of yesterday's pig roast under a tent in the park across the street. What a great day. We got home around 2:15.

Sermon for Pentecost

Emmanuel, Champaign--Acts 2:1-11; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

During my adult lifetime—indeed, arguably since I could have been legitimately described as “middle aged”—there has been a revolution in the way human beings communicate with one another. The expansion of the internet beyond just a few dozen geek scientists has not only changed the speed at which we communicate, but actually what we say and how we say it. We don’t need to look any further than just about any comment thread on a Facebook status, a tweet, or a blog post to illustrate my point. Virtually everyone here has at least looked at, if not participated in, a comment thread that is, shall we say, passionate, to put it kindly. Heck, some of us in this very church this morning have been involved in the same passionate thread more than a couple of times. And we’ve seen how easy it is for people to simply talk “past” one another, resulting in multiple levels of misunderstanding and misconstruing. Very quickly, emotions escalate, harsh words get used, and everything spirals down into a confused mess. Following the life of one of these “conversations” is like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Sadly, this is just an intensification of a problem that afflicts virtually all human communication. It shows up in marriages and families. It shows up in public and political discourse. And, as we know all too well, it even shows up among Christians, in church communities. It has no doubt been made worse by the technology we use now, when family members can send snarky text messages from across the dining room table, where people inexplicably have their smart phones and tablets with them. Problems with communication are obvious, of course, when people speak literally different languages. If you study a foreign language long enough, you’ll eventually discover that languages represent not just different words for the same ideas, but actually different ideas, different ways of processing human experience. Translation between languages is far from an exact science; it is at best an approximation. But human communication is just as problematic, though perhaps less obvious, when we supposedly speak the same language. For instance, I read recently about a creative “scheme” that has been devised to help encourage more young people in the Church of England to put themselves forward for ordination. And the important bit there was Church of England, because the word “scheme” connotes something rather sinister and unsavory to American ears, whereas among the Brits, it’s completely “brilliant,” which is another word they use differently!  Even using the same language, different cultural contexts can create serious problems in communication.

Poor communication, of course, can result in enormous suffering. Poor communication between diplomats can lead to war. Poor communication between different levels and branches of government can lead to the public welfare being placed in great jeopardy. Poor communication between management and labor can lead to painful economic dislocation. Poor communication is certainly one factor in domestic violence. Poor communication can easily ratchet-up racial tension. It seems to me that most of the heartburn around the Black Lives Matter movement can be traced to people of sincere goodwill feeling like they’re somehow at odds with one another because of inadequate communication. And, of course, the mission of the gospel, the mission of the church, is monumentally compromised because of communication failure, on both the speaking end and the hearing end

It has ever been thus. The biblical story of the Tower of Babel speaks of an occasion shrouded in the mists of pre-history when humankind presumed to try and build a tower to reach the heights of heaven, but God was displeased with the project and put a sudden end to it by causing the workers to no longer be able to understand what the others were saying, thus providing a legendary explanation for the diversity of human languages.

And then, along comes Pentecost. It was a liminal moment, a place of transition. The Jesus Movement had been born, when Jesus rose from the dead, and the umbilical cord was cut at the Ascension, but it had not yet begun to breathe. The life-or-death crisis had arrived. Was the Church going to take a deep breath and begin to thrive? Or would it be stillborn? The disciples of Jesus are gathered in Jerusalem, where they had been commanded by Jesus to wait, ten days earlier. Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city, and there were a great many outsiders there for the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot. These outsiders were Jews of the Diaspora—that is, ethnic Jews who lived in various places all over the eastern Mediterranean. One could plausibly surmise that they were at least conversant, if not necessarily fluent, in Aramaic, which was the native language of Jerusalem Jews at the time, and/or Greek, which was the common language of the eastern Mediterranean world. But they spoke and understood those languages in a variety of “accents.”

Were the disciples and those who heard them gathered on the grounds of the Temple, or nearby? It was certainly a public place, and the Temple was the public place in the city. We don’t know whether the crowd saw the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the Apostles, or heard the sound of rushing wind described in Acts. Perhaps they did, or maybe it was a private, mystical experience for the Apostles. What we do know is that these Jews of the Diaspora heard the Apostles speaking, each in his or her own peculiar language or dialect. Now, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the Apostles were all Galileans, so they were themselves outsiders in Jerusalem that day, and, as Galileans, they spoke Aramaic with a very distinct accent that most cultured and educated Jews felt was uncouth, kind of like the way somebody from the upper midwest instinctively feels about the speech patterns of someone from east Tennessee. On Pentecost, it was like sophisticated New Englanders hearing redneck southerners talk without detecting any sign of a “southern accent.” And as a result, these sophisticated Jerusalem Jews were able to take seriously what the Apostles were saying in a way that they would not have been able to if they had “heard” their true accents. And the same things happened for people wherever they were from: they didn’t hear a bunch of Galilean yahoos, they heard people talking the way they talk, using the slang and idioms that they use, speaking with an accent that sounded “normal” to them.

Effective communication took place on the Day of Pentecost, because language barriers were dissolved. The Holy Spirit enabled the Jewish Diaspora present in Jerusalem to hear what they needed to hear in the way they needed to hear it so as to be able to respond in faith. That is the Pentecostal gift that we celebrate and give thanks for today. Emmanuel Memorial Church is here today at the corner of State and University because baptized disciples of Jesus in the century before last were enabled by the Holy Spirit to hear what they needed to hear in the way they needed to hear it. Each of us individually is here today because the Holy Spirit has enabled us to hear what we need to hear in the way that we have needed to hear it. Perhaps this act, this intervention, of the Holy Spirit in the life of any given person here today, began decades ago, and that activity has been sustained to this very moment. Perhaps it began yesterday, or last night. For some in our midst this morning, it will happen a few minutes from now as we call down the Holy Spirit to stir the waters of the baptismal font, to turn the water into a spiritual amniotic fluid from which new life in Christ springs forth. Others will confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives and be strengthened in that same Spirit through these hands that have been entrusted to me, hands that are significant not because they belong to Daniel Martins but because they belong to the Bishop of Springfield, and therefore reach from through the centuries to make present here today the touch of those very Apostles upon whose heads the tongues of fire rested on Pentecost.

The curse of the Tower of Babel is a sign of the cosmic failure of human communication over the millennia of human existence. The work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and since Pentecost, is a sign of the restoration, reconciliation, and connection, among people, and between people and God.

As Jesus promises, the Spirit redeems and sanctifies human communication because the Spirit leads us into all truth. And the arrival of the Spirit is a public and collective event, which all can see and all can hear. The Spirit isn’t a private possession, to be hoarded or rationed, but is an ever-blowing wind that all can see the effects of. So we need one another, as the community of those who have received the gift of the Spirit in baptism. I am not led by the Spirit into all truth apart from you, nor you apart from me. We need to be in conversation with one another—indeed, in holy communion with one another. This is the context in which the Spirit makes it possible for us to hear what we need to hear in the way we need to hear it. Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday

Customary Saturday "leisurely" morning. Treadmill workout followed by a good, long walk. Attended to some details of our post-General Convention vacation. Did a bit of plastic surgery on an old sermon text for Proper 8, toward repurposing it for use at Redeemer, Cairo on July 1. Packed for an overnight and headed east toward Champaign at 2:15. Arrived at Emmanuel just as they were finishing roasting a pig, which will be the guest of honor at a post-liturgical banquet as they complete a year of celebrating the centennial of their church building. Met with tomorrow's confirmands and the families of the baptismal candidates. Check in at the Hilton Garden for some down time in advance of meeting all the clergy and spouses serving Emmanuel at the hope of Rector Beth Maynard.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Made liturgical and homiletical preparations for the Diocesan Council Mass.
  • Met for a bit with one of our parish clergy over an ongoing concern in his community.
  • Presided and preached at a Mass, using propers for Friday in Week of VII Easter.
  • Presided at the regular May meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Participated in some substantive ad hoc after-meeting conversations.
  • Lunch from Hardee's, eaten at home.
  • Consented to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Bethlehem.
  • Attended by phone to a personal matter.
  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes on the readings for Proper 5 and emerged with a homiletical message statement (St Michael's, O'Fallon on June 10).
  • Planned the details of Morning and Evening Prayer for the St Michael's Conference. Time-consuming.
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 18, in preparation for preaching at my DEPO parish, Trinity Church in Yazoo City, MS on September 9.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After dinner at home: Wrote my third (of 30) Forward Day by Day meditation for November 2019.
  • Took my sermon for Proper 6 from "message statement" to "developed outline" (St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel on June 17.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday

  • Early morning workout: weights and treadmill. MP in the car. In the office before 0930.
  • Did reconstructive surgery on the old sermon text for Trinity Sunday, toward repurposing it for use this year at Trinity, Jacksonville. 
  • Got back to work doing liturgy planning for the St Michael's conference. Today's goal: Choose hymns and service music and identify readings and pick Prayers of the People for the six celebrations of the Eucharist that will happen that week.
  • Interrupted that work to keep an 11am appointment with my psychotherapist. 
  • Grabbed lunch for Brenda and me at Popeye's and brought it home to eat.
  • Back to the liturgy planning. Such work is time-consuming.
  • Got into the weeds with my homily for Proper 4 (June 3 in Alton Parish). Started with a developed outline and emerged with a rough draft.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday

  • Task planning over breakfast at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Hand-wrote notes of condolence to two colleague bishops who have had recent deaths in their families.
  • Attended to a small administrative issue on behalf of one of our parish clergy.
  • Responded by email to another parish priest regarding some ongoing concerns.
  • Moved the ball a couple of yards down the field in prep for next month's visit from the Bishop of Tabora.
  • Got to work editing and refining my homily for this Sunday (Emmanuel, Champaign).
  • Interrupted that work for a scheduled 11am appointment with an individual in the ordination discernment process.
  • Resumed and completed my work on this Sunday's sermon.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Re-recorded a snippet of the most recent catechetical video because of some audio difficulties on the first take.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest from outside the diocese about a possible deployment opportunity here.
  • Dug the foundation for liturgical planning for next month's St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Took a walk up to Illinois National Bank for a personal errand.
  • Wrestled with my homiletical message statement for the Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 3 in Alton) and brought forth a rough draft of a sermon.
  • Wrote the second in a series of 30 220-word meditations on one of the office readings for each day in November 2019, to appear in the fourth quarter Forward Day by Day booklet that year. Sounds like a lot of lead time, I realize, but it's actually not that much.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday

Brenda and I drove up to Chicago yesterday to keep a healthcare appointment of hers, and we stayed over to attend a real estate closing this morning. Along with two of our children, we now own a three-flat apartment building in the greater Lincoln Square area on the north side. The kids will occupy two of the units and the third will be rented out until such future time as it becomes our retirement landing spot. We left Logan Square (where the kids currently live) at 2:30 and didn't get home until 7:45, having enjoyed the pleasure of traffic backup from two major accidents. It was more than two hours before we were even out of Cook County.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter

It's on weekends like this that I feel like I actually earn my keep. Then again, it's so much fun that perhaps I don't deserve to be paid. Ah ... deeper questions than I can ponder. Anyway, after yesterday's meeting with confirmands and dinner with the MLT, Brenda and I were up and out of our hotel in time for me to preside and preach at the regular 8am liturgy at St George's, followed by a long and lively adult forum at which we talked mostly about prayer, and then the 1030 Mass, which included a baptism and six confirmation. On the whole, a superb visitation to St George's. So many there who want to be genuine disciples of Jesus. After a late lunch at Ruby Tuesday in Litchfield (Brenda's fave), we were home close to 4:00.

Sermon for VII Easter

St George's, Belleville--John 17:6-19

What an emotional roller coaster!  First we heard about him from a friend or a relative or a neighbor. We were curious. So we went out at watched him from a distance and listened to him. There was something strangely compelling and attractive about him, though we couldn't quite put our finger on what it was. But when he walked up and introduced himself to us and told us to follow him, our mouths said Yes and our feet were on their way before our minds had even had time to engage. We became his followers, his disciples. He taught us to look to him as the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, as individuals and as a nation. We had a noble purpose, and were enlisted in an invincible cause. 

Then we went to Jerusalem. He insisted on it. Why? We're not really sure why. But in a few short days the temple authorities and the Romans ran him through a kangaroo court and hung him out to dry. Most of us deserted him in that hour, but . . . well, wasn't he deserting us by getting himself crucified? 

Then Sunday morning came, and the reports began to trickle in. Some women went to visit the tomb, and he wasn't there! Then Cleopas said he and a friend had seen him over in Emmaus; they even had dinner with him! Sure enough, he was risen, just as he had tried to tell us would happen, but we were too thick to hear it. He came to us and ate with us and explained things to us, and it was so wonderful to have him back. 

Too wonderful, apparently, to last, because only last Thursday he was talking to us and a cloud enveloped him and he was gone. He left with some reassuring words about always being with us and sending us out on a mission to the whole world. But, to tell you the truth, we're a little bit scared again. We're not quite sure what's going to happen next. He's gone back to heaven, but we're left in the world, the same world, I might add, that crucified him. And now we're even called by his own title — "Christians"! What does that say about our prospects in this world? We don't belong to this world any more than he did. He even told us: be in the world but not of the world. We don't belong here any more than he did. 

All of this could have been spoken by any of the disciples of Jesus who watched him ascend into Heaven forty days after the resurrection. It could also, with a few relatively minor explanations and qualifications, be said of us, two thousand years later. In truth, we have more in common with them in that moment than they did with their own selves two months earlier! 

As Christians, we also do not belong in the world. The world says, "Assert yourself." Jesus says, "Turn the other cheek." The world says, "Crush you enemies."  Jesus says, "Love your enemies." The world says, “Fear those who are different, those who are straingers.” Jesus says, “Welcome them.” The world says, “Grab for power when you can." Jesus says, "Be a servant." The world says, "Be careful with that money you've earned." Jesus says, "That money was never yours to begin with." The world says, "Your body is your own; do with it as you please." The gospel says, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." The world says, "Find the god of your choice, and make that god over in your own image." The gospel says, "There is only one God, and he made you in his image."

In the seventeenth chapter of John's gospel, we have recorded for us what is known as the "high-priestly prayer" of Jesus. It is reported as taking place on the eve of his crucifixion, but it might just as well have been uttered on the eve of his Ascension, which was his final bodily leave-taking from this world until his coming again. And so we read this portion of John today, on the Sunday after Ascension. In this prayer, Jesus intercedes with the Father on our behalf, we who are his followers, but who are left behind in a world as hostile to us as it was to him. He prays that we will not be defeated by the world, that we will be protected from the assaults of the evil one. 

Jesus envisions this divine protection as taking the form of four distinct qualities, four characteristics, which he prays will develop in us, individually and corporately. 

The first of these qualities is unity. Unity. "Make them one, Father, even as you and I are one." Yes, the outward fa├žade of the church is severely cracked, and that is a problem. The Body of Christ in the world is a broken body, and it is incumbent upon us to pray for its restoration. Yet, in spite of that brokenness, there is a fundamental unity that shines like a beacon to the eye of faith! Community, at least, is experienced. Relationships are supported, and loneliness is overcome, in Christ. It doesn't happen flawlessly, or completely, but it happens. Look around you and you'll see it. Jesus' prayer for our unity is being answered.

The second protective quality that Jesus prays that we will have is joy. "I speak these things in the world that they may have my joy complete in themselves." Jesus isn't talking about "smiley-face" "have a nice day" kind of joy. That kind of thing comes and goes. The kind of joy Jesus is talking about is a profound sense of ultimate well-being.  Many decades ago, there was a celebration of the centennial of Christian missionary work in the heart of the African continent. There were all sorts of prayers and hymns and speakers on the agenda. But the show-stopper was an unscheduled speaker, a very elderly African man, who revealed, for the first time, a secret passed on to him by his parents. When the missionaries had first come to his village, the tribal leaders decided to kill them by putting a slowly-acting poison in their food. But when they saw that these missionaries faced painful and mysterious death with a deep sense of well-being, of being even then under the umbrella of God's love, the villagers decided that they wanted to live that way too, and they became Christians!  What they saw was authentic joy, and that joy is available to us as well.

The third protective characteristic that Jesus prays for on our behalf is moral courage. 
"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one." As we can all testify, even though we are not of the world, the mere fact that we are in it exposes us to its moral hazards. To put it more bluntly, we are tempted, and we sin! We act in ways that are consistent with the values of this world,
rather than the values of the kingdom of God. We begin our worship most weeks with the Collect for Purity. "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open..." — even mine!—"[to you] ... all desires [are] known..." — even mine!—and "from you no secrets are hid..." — not even mine! If we really heard and believed that prayer, would it lower our anxiety? Or raise it? In either case God's grace is sufficient for our need, because it offers us abundant pardon and forgiveness for anything, and I do mean anything, we have ever done. And, better yet, it offers us the capacity and the strength we need for amendment of life, for changing our mind, for following a different road. Jesus prays for us to be morally victorious, and, in him, it is possible.

The fourth and final protective characteristic that Jesus prays that we will have is missionary effectiveness. "As you have sent me into the world [Father,] so I have sent them into the world." You and I are on a mission. We have a job to do, and, in doing that job, we are protected from the hazards of this hostile world. Our mission is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to every man, woman, and child who walks the face of this earth. Just as Jesus did not pray for his followers to be taken out of the world, we cannot do so for anybody else. But we do have the authority to call them to renounce their citizenship, to turn in their earthly passport and become naturalized citizens, with us, of the kingdom of God. This renunciation, this adoption of new citizenship, is called baptism! 

As disciples of Jesus, we are in a world that wants to eat us alive. But the constant intercession of Jesus the Christ, our risen and ascended High Priest, assures us of our victory over the world. In him, we experience unity in the midst of alienation, joy in the midst of despair, moral courage in the face of temptation, and a message of hope in the midst of disintegration and chaos. 

Alleluia, and Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday

Having dealt with some details pertaining to the Bishop of Tabora's visit next month, and doing a weights/treadmill workout as well a few other personal odds and ends, it was time to pack for a 2:30 departure with Brenda. We arrived at St George's, Belleville in time for a meeting with five of tomorrow's six youth confirmands. We had a lively time of final catechesis and preparation. Then we headed over to the Hilton Garden in O'Fallon, got settled in, and headed across the street to Bella Milano for dinner with the St George's MLT.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday

  • Pretty routine start to the workday. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Substantive (incoming) phone conversation with one of our parish clergy.
  • Substantive conversation-in-passing with the cathedral dean.
  • Substantive phone conversation (incoming) with a colleague bishop.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for this Sunday (St George's, Belleville).
  • Conceived and hatched a post for the Covenant blog that is due next week. It still needs some significant development, but the skeleton is there.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Kept an appointment with a doctor to follow up on my kidney stone drama from about three weeks ago. Ran a personal errand on the way back to the office.
  • Devoted the balance of the afternoon to my homily for Pentecost (Emmanuel, Champaign), taking it from the "developed outline" phase to "rough draft."
  • End-of-the-day incoming phone call from a priest outside the diocese calling to simply find out how to reach me. Well ... he did.We had a conversation that was ... you guessed it ... substantive.
  • Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ascension

Final meeting of my Forward Movement board tenure in the morning. Drove from Cincinnati to Glen Carbon (6+ hours). Celebrated and preached a splendid Ascension Mass for the Darrow Deanery at St Thomas' Church. Drove home to Springfield. A quite full day. I may allow myself an extra half-hour of sleep in the morning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday (St Gregory of Nazianzus)

In Cincinnati for (my last) meeting of the board of Forward Movement. We had some important and productive discussions, and enjoyed lunch and dinner together. Forward Movement has come a very long way in my six years serving it, from primarily a pamphlet and tract purveyor (of which I have bought more than a few during my time in ministry) to becoming a dynamic producer of evangelism and discipleship resources for the Episcopal Church. i have been blessed by the association.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday (Julian of Norwich)

Got some stuff done at home until mid-morning: Assembled a list of names and connected information and sent them off to the chair of a search committee in the diocese, attended to a couple of small administrative tasks, plotted preparatory tasks for my participation in the St Michael's Youth Conference next month, plotted the broad strokes of a major writing assignment I've accepted. Then, at 1030, having already packed, I hit the road for Cincinnati and my final meeting as a member of the board of Forward Movement. Arrived around 5:15 (eastern time), got checked into my downtown hotel, processed some emails, read Evening Prayer, and then joined other board members for drinks and dinner. Our actual meeting starts tomorrow.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogation)

I'm always energized by the liturgy and music at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign, where we did Rogation Sunday up right this morning, with an outdoor procession, wherein the verger ended up directing  vehicular traffic, to bless an experimental agriculture plot. The choir sang the Jubilate from the Howells Collegium Regale setting. I actually preached on the text from I John (which I find a difficult document) about "water and blood." Six young adults were confirmed, including a college senior who was born the year my oldest child was a college senior, so I feel suitably ancient. I got a sneak peak at some prospective architectural plans for the replacement of Canterbury House. All in all, a splendid visit.

Sermon for VI Easter

Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign--I Jon 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

Most of you are probably aware that, for almost the last three years in the Episcopal Church, we’ve had a Presiding Bishop who is relentlessly on-message, one of the most disciplined leaders in staying on-message that I have ever encountered. “We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement,” and every Episcopalian who pays attention to the wider church knows this by now. I, for one, find this development very encouraging. It’s now fashionable to talk about Jesus in the Episcopal Church, not something that could always have been said, so … what’s not to like?!  

The Jesus Movement, of course, is not something brand new that Michael Curry made up. It’s how Christianity got started, two-thousand years ago: as a movement—a movement centered on Jesus. But, more accurately, perhaps, we should probably be talking about Jesus movements, in the plural. The community that Jesus left behind after his Ascension, and which caught fire ten days later on Pentecost—this movement initially went in multiple directions. We don’t have direct knowledge of some of these different directions, but we can find shadows, echoes, traces of them in the New Testament. If you’ve spent very much time reading the four gospels, you’ve noticed that “three of these things belong together; one of these things just isn’t the same.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke are clearly in the same family, while John is another thing entirely. And if you’ve read the New Testament epistles, you know that the letters attributed to Paul are somewhat similar to those attributed to Peter, but rather different than the one attributed to James, and nearly on a different planet than the ones attributed to John. Most scholars infer that there was what they call a “Johannine” community, evidence for which is preserved in the gospel and epistles of John. And when we look at these “Johannine” documents closely, we can see evidence of a rupture within that community, a serious rift that led to division and walking apart. Of course, we only have one side of the narrative, so we’re short on the details.

Now, by the early second century, the Johannine community and the other streams of the original Jesus Movement came together and congealed into the “Catholic church,” that is the “holy catholic church” that we profess in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Today, however, and all throughout the Easter season, we have an opportunity to poke around the ruins of this pre-Catholic “Jesus movements” environment, an opportunity afforded to us by the First Epistle of John.

One of the first things that always strikes me when I read I John is the constant undertone of conflict, of “us vs. them” rhetoric. A couple of examples, first from chapter two, verse 22: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” And this from chapter three, verse 10: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” There are many, many more that I could cite. Clearly there are obviously adversaries to the Johannine community, but we know about them only by allusion and veiled reference. They have apparently broken away from the community and become a rival “Jesus movement,” and this incurs the strong condemnation of the author of this epistle. He sets out successive litmus tests, strewn throughout the epistle, all following an “If this, then that” formula, and all eventually involving confession that Jesus is the “the Christ” and “the Son of God.”

And it all kind of comes to of a head in the passage we have this morning from chapter five, the mysterious and hard-to-decipher verse that talks about the water and the blood and the Spirit. What’s going on here?  Let me try to break it open for you if I can! John says that Jesus didn’t just come by water, but by “the water and the blood.” So, we can infer from this that there was a faction that liked to use the expression “came by water” in referring to Jesus. “Water,” in this context, quite possibly refers to Jesus’ baptism, in the water of the Jordan River, and anointing by the Holy Spirit on the same occasion, descending on him in the form of a dove. For the “came by water” faction that John is opposing, the importance of Jesus lies in his incarnation, and in his teaching and in his ministry of healing. Now, it’s impossible to deny that this—this “came by water” position, is precisely the sort of “Jesus Movement” that gets good traction with a great many people even today. Anglicans in particular seem to “major” in the Incarnation, even taking a measure of pride in doing so. Many people find a connection to Jesus through his ministry of compassion and healing, and in his teaching around justice for the poor, and non-violence, and the like.

But “John” pushes back on this. Sure, Jesus came by water. He was baptized in the Jordan and visibly anointed by the Holy Spirit. But that’s an incomplete picture. It doesn’t say enough. Jesus came “not by the water only, but by the water and the blood.” John is trying to say that you don’t know Jesus until you know him crucified and raised from death. “Came through blood” refers to the cross—and, more specifically even, death on the cross as an act of atonement. The work of Jesus is sealed and accomplished only on the cross, signified by the flow of … wait for it … water and blood from his pierced side, the side of him who is the Christ, the Messiah, both the Son of God and the Lamb of God. The Son of God is revealed in the waters of the Jordan; the Lamb of God is revealed in the blood of Calvary. As far as the author of this epistle is concerned, his opponents, the ones he castigates at every turn, should have already known this, because John the Baptist himself testified, right after Jesus’ baptism, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world.”

Just as there are “came by water only” Christians, I suppose it’s true that there are “came by blood only” Christians, those who concern themselves only with the atoning death of Jesus and effectively ignore his teaching and example. I suspect that John would have harsh words for them as well. You may remember Mel Gibson’s movie from about fifteen years ago called The Passion of the Christ. It was really controversial and provoked extremely polarized opinions. Some absolutely loved it and some passionately hated it. In reflecting on that experience over the years, I’ve developed a theory that latter day “came by water” Christians are the ones who hated it, because it focused solely on Jesus’ atoning death. Those who understand, along with the author of I John, that Christ “came by water and blood” were among those who were more favorably disposed to the film.

In any case, what the liturgy for the Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B holds us accountable to is that the Jesus Movement that we are part of calls us to follow the whole Christ, the Christ who came not just “by water” in his incarnation and life, but by “water and blood” in his death and resurrection. In so doing, we are disciples whom Jesus calls “friends” and not just “servants,” as we read this morning in the gospel of John. We are those whom the “whole Christ” has chosen to “go and bear fruit.”

Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday (St Monnica)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt with some logistical and planning issues related to my attendance at a meeting of the Corporation Members of Nashotah House later this month,
  • Attended to a piece of business related to my trusteeship of the Putnam Trust, of which two of our Eucharistic Communities are beneficiaries.
  • Moved the ball downfield a few yards toward the goal of being able to send some names to the search committee of a parish with a pastoral vacancy,
  • Took care of a small detail pertaining to next week's Darrow Deanery Ascension liturgy, at which YFNB is celebrant and preacher.
  • Cracked open the commentaries on both Mark and II Corinthians toward the end of preaching responsibly at St Michael's, O'Fallon on June 10.
  • Read some material online about a batch of General Convention resolutions that will try to homogenize and standardize procedures around the election of bishops in TEC. Lots of potential for chicanery here, IMO. Vigilance required.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo (it's been a while), eaten at home.
  • Surveyed my calendar and blocked out some time for a personal retreat in December.
  • Spoke by phone with a member of the Camp Board about some routine administrative issues.
  • Read and responded to an email from one of our parish clergy about goings-on in the parish.
  • Wrestled with my homiletical notes for Proper 6 (June 17 in Mt Carmel) toward the end of emerging with a central message statement for the occasion. I succeeded.
  • Read the Blue Book report from the SCLM on the status of the liturgies for same-sex "marriage."
  • Spent a good chunk of time in silent prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Thursday

I felt rather more "ownership" of my own destiny today. The threatened oncoming sickness that I felt last night failed to materialize. I was up early per usual on a Thursday morning for a weights and treadmill workout . Morning Prayer at home, as I had to wait for the scheduled arrival of a team of two plumbers who spent two-thirds of the day doing some important but non-emergency work in our home. I slipped out to attend a 10am meeting of the diocesan trustees. (This is the group responsible for overseeing our invested funds.) Leveraged the presence of two of the trustees whom I needed to speak with on other matters in a couple of short conversations after the meeting. Back home for lunch, stopping at HyVee to pick up some fried chicken. Hung around the house to be available to the plumbers for random questions, but steadily ticking items off my task list thanks to a robust internet connection. Back to the office around 3:00. Took care of a couple administrative details, then did some homiletical heavy lifting, squeezing out a message statement for s sermon on the Sunday of Proper 4 (June 3 in Alton Parish). Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday (St Athanasius)

Lest I take any pride in a recent pattern of well-planned and efficiently executed working days, with ample attention paid to getting a good amount of exercise, when everything seems to spin out of my control. Apparently I need to be kept humble. Day before yesterday I had some symptoms that were sufficiently noticeable and sufficiently indicative of a possible cardiac event that, in an abundance of caution, I spent some time in the ER. Tests all came back negative, thus bolstering my "history of negative cardiac workups," but the doctor wanted by to have a stress test, just to be on the safe side. For various reasons, it couldn't happen that day, so it was scheduled for 10am today. So up until about 0940 this morning, other than having had to skip breakfast, everything went well, and I expected to resume my planned activities at least by noon. Somehow I had forgotten that a stress test is a rather drawn-out procedure, and moderately unpleasant. So it was 1:45 before I got out of the clinic, without having had either breakfast or lunch, and feeling generally crummy. Then, just when I got myself feeling centered once again, and fed, I was back in the office and saw an email pertaining to some Chicago real estate transactions that we're involved in (one as sellers, one as co-buyers), and it was immediately off to retrieve Brenda and head to the bank to get some documents notarized, then to the Post Office to get them overnighted to Chicago. All the while I'm aware of an increasingly persistent cough and headache, so ... maybe getting sick? I got home and cranked out some work on my Pentecost homily, with fixing dinner on the grill sandwiched in there. Evening Prayer fell through the cracks, and I'm feeling generally out of control and a bit overwhelmed as the two remaining working days of the week loom ahead of me (with some plumbers at the house in the morning). I will get back to normal. Sometime.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ss Philip & James

  • Daily and weekly task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Attended by email to some evolving details of next month's visit from the Bishop of Tabora and his wife.
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for this Sunday (Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign). At this stage of sermon preparation, "editing" largely means paying attention to the oral nature of the genre. One should write differently when one's words are going to be heard than when they're going to be read.
  • Took a longish walk on a gorgeous morning--down Spring to South Grand, then back up on First.
  • Further refined Bishop Elias' visit itinerary, and shared it with some key people.
  • Tied up a couple of loose ends from last week's visit from a couple of Pension Group representatives.
  • Turned by attention to some initial prep for next month's (fourth annual) St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • Attended Mass in the cathedral chapel for the major feast of Ss Philip & James.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Attended by email to some details pertaining to the search process in a pastorally-vacant parish. Trying to pull together a list of names for them.
  • Studied another section in the General Convention "Blue Book" that pertains to the legislative committee to which I have been assigned (Liturgy & Music).
  • Took another walk, this time north on Second around the north end of the Capitol and back down on First.
  • Worked on a Communion Partners project.
  • Scanned, categorized, and tagged a sheaf of hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.