Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXV Pentecost)

Up, fed, and out of our Bloomington hotel room in time to head west for about an hour-and-a-quarter and arrive in Havana well-early for their regular 1000 Sunday liturgy. Presided, preached, and confirmed an adult. There were 32 warm bodies in the room, which is more than double the previous high total for any of my prior visitations. So my day was made early. After the usual delicious and ample post-liturgical repast, we headed on down to Springfield, and checked in at the Doubletree downtown. (It feels weird and sad to be in an area we feel so at home in and not have it be actually home anymore.) We rested for a while, then went out and saw a movie (Indivisible) and caught a late supper at Popeye's.

Sermon for Proper 27

St Barnabas', Havana--Mark 12:38-44, I Kings 17:8-16

I have a radio on my nightstand and a radio in my car. In both of these locations, the default setting, for more than 40 years now, has been to whatever the local public radio station is. I listen to National Public Radio news and, while they were still on the air, Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk, as well, classical music and jazz, though those things aren’t aired as much as they used to be. If it weren’t for satellite radio now, I really wouldn’t have much to listen to if public radio were not around. And it helps that there are no commercials, as such. But, twice a year, as you may know, there’s a fund-raising drive. I wake up to it, hit the ‘Snooze’ button, and when it comes back on nine minutes later, they’re still talking about money, so I hit the ‘Snooze’ button again, and when it comes back on, they’re still at it. I assume that they sneak some regular programming in there occasionally, but sometimes I wonder. So, by the time I get in my car, I don’t even bother to turn the radio on during those two weeks each year.

But, at least I turn my radio off with a clear conscience, because I know I’ve made a financial contribution to my local station. I’m not one of those loathsome freeloaders who listen without paying. I do my share. I pull my weight. It’s only fair, after all. If I want public radio to stay on the air, I’ve got to band together with others to help make it happen. If it goes down the tubes, and I haven’t been supporting it with my dollars, then I’ve got no one to blame except myself.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re entirely used to the notion of “paying dues.” When you’re a member of some association or community or other organized aggregation of human beings, and you derive some benefit from that affiliation, you expect to make a financial contribution to it. When that organized aggregation of people is a political entity, then the financial contribution becomes mandatory, and we call it taxation. But the principle is the same. And it isn’t just financial. I can remember when I first wanted to play Little League baseball, and my parents were entirely supportive … entirely supportive, that is, until they found out they were expected to do more than pay a fee and get me to my games and practices on time. I still got to play, but it was an awakening for my parents.

Yet, even when we pay dues, and even when those dues are called “taxes,” the amount we are asked to contribute is still a relatively small percentage of our total resources. Even billionaires in the highest tax brackets, who pay more in taxes each year than some of us might earn in a lifetime, have more money than they know what to do with after paying their “dues” to the government. This is in stark contrast to two unnamed women whom we encounter in today’s liturgy—one in the Old Testament, one in the New; one a Jew and the other a Gentile; one living in the time of Christ and one living several hundred years earlier in the time of Elijah. What unites them is that they were both widows, and were both desperately poor.

We read first today about the Gentile widow in the Phoenician village of Zarephath. The Hebrew prophet Elijah paid her a visit during a period of drought and asked her for some food. If she’d had the energy, she would have laughed in his face, because her total resources amounted to a cup or so of flour and one or two tablespoons of oil and a few dried sticks. With that, she was preparing to fix a last meal for herself and her son, for they would surely then die of hunger. Now, Elijah had a plan to help this lady, but—perhaps because he wasn’t himself 100% sure of it—he neglected to inform her of that fact. Instead, he asked of this Gentile widow something quite extraordinary. He asked her to take her meager resources, and fix him a meal first, and only then prepare a pancake for herself and her son. Elijah may as well have asked this woman to slit her wrists and let him drink her very life’s blood. He was asking her to give him, a stranger, everything she had, to hold nothing back.

Years later, as Jesus and his disciples are standing outside the temple in Jerusalem; they are watching various people place their monetary offerings in the collection box. People who were materially well off made a great show of placing heavy bags, obviously full of very valuable coins, into the box. Those bags of money would go a long way toward helping the temple meet its annual operating budget and maintain the fabric of the physical plant. Then, a widow arrives, and places two small coins in the box. They are of virtually no value, each coin worth less than one cent in today’s terms. Jesus observes that those two coins represented all she had, “her whole living.” The fact that there were two coins is of tremendous significance, because she could have kept one back for herself. She still would have been giving a full 50% of her resources to the Lord, certainly a commendable act. But she gave it all, she held back nothing.

In their faithfulness, demonstrated in concrete action, these two widows show us what it means to be a steward of resources that have been entrusted to us by God. Stewardship is not about giving a certain percentage of our time to God. Stewardship is not about giving a certain percentage of our money to God. Stewardship is not about reverencing God, devoting a certain percentage of our affection to God. Stewardship is about making a gift of our selves to God, holding back nothing, offering God all we have, our “whole living.” Now, this is such a central concept in coming to spiritual maturity that there’s no way I could stress it too highly or articulate it with sufficient eloquence. It can be a hard place to get to. So, any talk of “percentage giving” is really quite meaningless until one comes to this stage of development, this place of complete and unrestricted self-giving to God.

Now, I realize, of course, that we are in the heart of “stewardship season” throughout most of the Episcopal Church, though I don’t know precisely where you are with it at St Barnabas’. Maybe you already have your 2019 pledge card available to fill out. Maybe Fr Newago has encouraged you to tithe—to give 10% of your after-tax income to the Lord through the work of the parish at whose altar you are regularly fed. But now I want to put a condition on that encouragement to tithe—to give that 10%. If you have not reached the point in your own spiritual development where you have told God, “I’m completely yours. Make of me what you will; I am an empty vessel; fill me”—if you have not reached that point, then listen to me: Do not tithe! You can still make a pledge, and I hope you do. St Barnabas’ needs your financial gifts. But it is spiritually dangerous to tithe if you think you’re doing so out of your own magnanimity, out of your own abundance, from a place of being blessed, full of resources. Jesus wants us to give, not out of our abundance, but out of our poverty. Until we come to the place where we can say, “I am poor,” no matter how much money we have in our wallets or in the bank, tithing can become a source of pride, and can take us to hell just as quickly as being stingy and giving nothing. Now, please understand me: I’m not trying to discourage tithing. I’m trying to encourage stewardship. I’m trying to hold up the example of the two widows who are the stars of today’s episode of The Holy Eucharist—the holy Thanksgiving.

And here’s how our relationship with the Church differs from our relationship with public radio or youth athletic organizations or service clubs or any other association we may belong to. When we put money into a church offering envelope, we’re not paying dues. We’re not contributing our “fair share” in response to the benefits we receive from belonging. This is critical to remember, because “dues paying” makes us think we have a “controlling interest”—in every sense of that expression—paying dues makes us think we have a controlling interest in whatever it is we give. Ironically, we sometimes even use the word “stewardship” to justify our “controlling interest,” as in “I just want to be sure that my money that I give is being used wisely.” That’s good common sense, from a human standpoint, but it falls short of Christian stewardship. A Christian steward gives, and then lets go. Somehow I doubt that the widow outside the Jerusalem temple wrote a letter to the High Priest asking for an accounting of the two half-pennies she dropped into the collection box. She gave everything she had, and then let go. 

When we reach the point in our faith development where we can begin to act like stewards, however, all sorts of wonderful things happen. We loosen our grip on the concrete signs of what we think we are “giving,” and, in the process, acquire a capacity to enjoy all that God is doing in a fresh way. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories—they are truly abundant, and my own is one of them—the stories of how a person or a family, with some fear and trembling, comes to the point where they realize that to not tithe is really to be robbing God, and so they say their prayers and swallow hard and do it, and then find that miracle after miracle happens, that the Lord provides for all their needs and then some, and that they are more richly blessed than they could ever have imagined. What such people are experiencing is nothing other than what the widow of Zarephath experienced when she summoned the faith to do precisely as Elijah had instructed her. She poured some flour from her flour container and some oil from her oil container and made Elijah a pancake. Then, with a trembling hand, no doubt, she lifted her flour container once more, and there was just enough to make another couple of cakes. Same with the oil. And there kept on being just enough until the drought broke and there was an ample supply of food once again. If she had not obeyed Elijah, she may indeed have made a last meal for herself and her son, and then died. Because of her faith, because of her willingness to give all she had, she was enabled to see the sustaining power of God.

NPR and PBS want our dues. God wants our selves. Let’s remember the difference. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday (St Leo the Great)

  • Began the work day by producing #26 in the eventual series of 30 daily office lectionary meditations for publication in Forward Day by Day in November of next year.
  • Spent the remainder of the daylight hours first making a drive out to suburban Palatine two receive a couple of pre-owned area rugs from my sister and her husband, hauling them back to our apartment, and working with our son and his wife getting them situated. They are in excellent condition, and look quite handsome in their new home.
  • At 5:20, having packed for four nights away, we pointed the YFNBmobile southward and drove until we hit Bloomington, where we are bedded down for the night in the familiar Doubletree. Tomorrow morning it's out to Havana and a visitation to St Barnabas' Church.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday

  • Morning Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel, which is slowly taking shape.
  • Task planning over breakfast.
  • Planned and plotted the last and longest of the clergy retreat presentations for next week. I hope to refresh and reinvigorate the stance of our clergy toward the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.
  • Took some time to hang a handful of the smaller wall decorations that we moved up here (the larger items having been hung some weeks ago), and sort the rest into the general locations where they will be mounted.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Used email to recruit clergy to specific jobs in our corporate worship next week.
  • Had a substantive phone conversation in relation to an ongoing pastoral issue.
  • Dug into commentaries on Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on III Advent at St John's, Centralia.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for today.
  • Attended to some personal financial chores.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • In the evening: Set down the broad strokes (and a few of the fine ones) of my next-due post on the Covenant blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thursday

  • Task planning over breakfast. Morning Prayer in my chair.
  • Made an email inquiry of the Administrator concerning clergy conference registration.
  • Sent sermons for two Sundays to a lay Worship Leader who will be officiating at Morning Prayer in one of our Eucharistic Communities where the priest will be a gone a bit this month,
  • Traded emails with a colleague bishop and one of our clergy over an emerging pastoral matter. Set up a phone call for later.
  • Did a deep dive into the not-yet-resolved new database app issue. Formulated some questions for Paige, who is running point on this.
  • Reviewed a collection of stills and videos from synod, and marked certain ones as appropriate for inclusion in an in-process video collage.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Had a long and substantive phone conversation with the above-referenced colleague bishop.
  • Took a vigorous hour-and-a-quarter walk. (It has been impressed on my repeatedly that, if there is a silver bullet for maintaining health into old age, it is exercise. I try to make it a "big rock."
  • Wrote for-the-file summaries of recent annual review conversations with two staff members.
  • Scanned, tagged, and categories hard-copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday (St Willibrord)

  • Morning Prayer with Brenda in our home chapel.
  • Did my best to read, mark, lean, and inwardly digest thick proposals from five investment management firms who are bidding to handle the diocesan investments. (The Bishop has ex oficio seat, voice, and vote on the diocesan trustees.) I am very grateful that there are people who find this sort of thing engaging, and can attend to the myriad of details. I do my best to hang in there.
  • Had tio have an early lunch of leftovers, get dressed up, and head out the door a little past noon. We had tickets to a matineĆ© performance of Wagner's Siegfried at the Chicago Lyric Opera. The show had a five-hour run time, so it was 6:00 before we got out of there, enjoying dinner at a Brazilian churrascareia on our way home. The opera was magnificent, outstanding.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tuesday (William Temple)

  • Dealt with a short stack of recently-arrived emails first thing in the morning.
  • MP in my living room chair.
  • Dealt with a couple of quick household chores.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and posted my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana). The "printing" part consumed an inordinate amount of time, but with some persistence I solved a vexing technical glitch.
  • In the midst of this I had a substantive phone conversation with the president of the Standing Committee.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Planned the first half of the final session of next week's clergy conference.
  • Sent the music for the closing Eucharist to the organist for the occasion.
  • Succumbed to the call of a functional but not yet fully organized apartment to ... make it more organized. There will be other such occasions of distraction.
  • Took a brisk walk with Brenda.
  • Prayed the evening office with Brenda in our emerging chapel/oratory/multi-purpose room.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Lord's Day (XXIV Pentecost)

  • Waking up in my Springfield office/quarters at a somewhat ungodly hour due to the time change, I decided to "make lemonade," and set out at 0615 (CST) on a long walk that took me an hour-and-a-quarter: south on Spring to South Grand, east to Ninth, north to Carpenter, west to First, and south through the Capitol grounds back to the office.
  • God cleaned up and packed, hitting the road to Mattoon at 0810, stopping at McD's for a breakfast sandwich.
  • Presided and preached at Trinity's regular 1000 liturgy, confirming two adults and receiving one. Impressed to find that they now have a choir, anchored by four Eastern students who receive a small stipend. Substantive post-liturgical conversations with both laity and clergy.
  • Pulled into my Chicago garage at 4:20.

Sermon for All Saints

Trinity, Mattoon

Whenever we say the creed—whether it’s the Nicene Creed of the Eucharist or the Apostles’ Creed of Baptism—we say that we “believe in … the communion of saints.” So these words cross our lips frequently. But, of all the articles of the creed, I suspect that the one about the communion of saints is probably the least noticed and least understood by the majority of Christians. So let’s unpack it a little bit.

First, who are “the saints”? Let’s start with who they’re not. The saints are not people who were perfect in the way they lived their lives. They were not sinless people—at least not in this life, although we do give them that title “Saint” before their names because we believe—or suspect, at least—that they have now attained a state of sinlessness—in other words, perfect union with Christ—and are able to endure the presence of God without being turned to dust, which none of us, I suspect, could do. Nor were the saints, when they walked this earth, necessarily weirdos, religious freaks, “goody two-shoes” types who were “so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good,” the sort of people nobody can directly find fault with but everybody loves to hate anyway.

So, again, who are the saints? The saints are real, flesh and blood, Christian persons. The saints are people who ate and drank and slept and sinned and had dreams and ambitions. The saints are Christians who knew grief and disappointment, who loved and laughed and suffered and died—all pretty ordinary stuff! But there is, of course, a sense in which the saints were not ordinary at all, and that’s why we give them special recognition. They were uncommonly, heroically, devoted to Christ, and their devotion showed in the way they lived their lives, even if it was just in the manner of their dying, bearing witness to the gospel with their own blood, as martyrs.

I don’t know whether it’s just that I’m now well past midlife, and getting into old age, and feel like I have a long perspective on societal evolution, or whether our society has indeed changed, but it seems to me that we’re a lot more cynical than we used to be. We don’t have heroes anymore. Since Watergate, and other things, we have way fewer political heroes. Since steroids, it's harder to have baseball heroes. Heroism is just in short supply all around. Yet, if we try hard enough, we can think of teachers whose impact on our lives we can still feel years and decades later. As we age, it often becomes easier to see the positive impact that our parents had on who we are today. Or we may be aware of friends and neighbors and colleagues and business associates who have set an example and provide a pattern for us to admire and emulate. So, we may have to dig a little more deeply than earlier generations did, but we do have our heroes.

Well, the saints are the heroes and heroines of our Christian family. They are the ones whose names should come up as we sit around the campfire, or the kitchen table, or the parish hall coffee hour. The saints are the ones whose stories we should tell our children in order to inspire them to live lives of faith and devotion. The saints give us an example of how to live effectively as Christians in this world. They provide a pattern for us to emulate: in the way they loved, in the way they prayed, in the way they obeyed the call of Christ, in the way they served the world and the church and the church’s Lord, and, quite often, in the way they died.

The saints inspire us. They keep us company in the valley of our spiritual journeys, because they’ve been in valleys themselves. If we study their lives, we know something about those valleys, and can recognize them as being very similar to our own. By seeing that the saints were given God’s mercy and grace to see them through their time in the valley, our faith is increased that we also will receive mercy and grace to help in time of need, and we have the strength and confidence to persevere.

The saints encourage us in our journey toward joining them. Our destiny is to be with them, enjoying a vision of God’s glory that is unclouded by sin or suffering or fear. They see God face to face, which is the ultimate fulfillment of human existence. As Anglicans, with one foot in the Catholic world and one foot in the Protestant world, we are usually reserved about using the word “pray” with respect to our relationship to the saints. We’re instinctively a little queasy about praying to anybody but God. Our reluctance, however, is probably less theological than it is linguistic. Three hundred years ago, one might meet a stranger on the street and say, “I pray thee, dost thou have the time?” So, if we understand the word “pray” in the sense of simply asking for something, something as casual as asking a stranger for the time of day, we should be able to wrap our minds around asking the saints, the communion of God’s holy ones enjoying his unfiltered presence—asking the saints to hold us in their own prayers to the same God whom we worship and adore on earth.  We “pray” to the saints and they pray for us and we all pray to God together, because, as our collect tells us today, we have been knit together in one communion and fellowship.

The saints also call us into the “full measure and stature” of the identity in Christ that we were given in the sacrament of baptism. The covenant that God establishes with us in baptism, sealed in water and oil and given voice in the vows we make, and which we ratify when we’re confirmed, is a pretty radical statement. God promises to wash away our sins, adopt us as his children, graft us into the body of his Son, give us new life in this world and raise us to eternal life in the next. In acknowledging those gifts, we promise to love and serve him faithfully, to serve him in everyone we meet, to put the values of justice and righteousness before our own selfish interests. There are many points along the journey when we are tempted to weasel out of those vows, to hope God wasn’t really listening when we made them, or didn’t notice that our fingers were crossed. The saints are there to hold us accountable, to tell us, “Bad idea. Don’t wander off the road. Keep your eye on the prize. Trust us, it’s worth the effort!”

So…do you have your heroes in the communion of saints? If you do, ask them to pray for us as we’re gathered here this morning in worship. If not, then go get some! There are plenty to go around. All holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Saturday (Richard Hooker)

  • Up and out of my monk's cell/office around 0815. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Asked Siri, "Where's a good place to have breakfast near me?" and she suggested a place 1.8 miles away where I had never been in my n7.5 years living in Springfield. So I walk there, enjoyed some delicious biscuits and gravy, and walked back (40 minutes there, 45 minutes back).
  • Plowed through and disposed of, one way or another, a stack of accumulated emails.
  • Fleshed out plans for the penultimate session of the clergy conference.
  • Went out again--by car this time. Did a bit of shopping at HyVee, got a sandwich at Chick-Fil-A, and got the YFNBmobile washed.
  • Wrote a letter of recommendation for an individual applying to seminary.
  • Attended to some issues pertaining to a couple of projects Paige, our Communicator, is working on.
  • Prepared service leaflets for the once instance of Evensong at the clergy conference. This required downloading some version of Adobe Acrobat, so I could edit PDFs. It will come in handy in many ways, I'm sure. But the whole thing was very time-consuming.
  • Still working on the clergy conference, I acquired the legal right to use a hymn not in our hymnal, A small amount of money changed hands, and I made the copies we'll need. Used Adobe Acrobat!
  • Did some online research on what the grounds are for issuing a declaration of nullity of a marriage. Strangely, I have a request to do just that, and I'm trying ton take it seriously.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Did yet some more clergy conference prep (lassoing help for various liturgical chores).
  • Walked the four or five blocks down Spring Street to Bernie & Betty's, a pizza place I've always wanted to try. Had pizza and beer.
  • Came back to the office and ground out (churned out? whipped out?) #25 in the Forward Day by Day set of 30 that I'm working on for November of next year.
  • I think I've earned my keep today, and intend to watch a TV show on my iPad before I call it a night.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Friday (All Souls')

  • Another Friday morning waking up in my office. McD's for breakfast. Devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Caught up with the Administrator on some mind-numbing details concerning clergy health insurance--in this case, my own!
  • Casual debrief with the Archdeacon on the usual "range of issues."
  • Eventually got to sorting and prioritizing my tasks for the day.
  • Met with the Administrator for her annual review.
  • My 1100 appointment arrived at 1035, a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities. That lasted about an hour.
  • Got to work refining, editing, printing, and posting my homily for this Sunday (celebrating All Saints at Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Attended the cathedral Mass for All Souls' Day.
  • Lunch from KFC, eaten ... in my car (so I could listen to the radio). On of the downsides of the new order is that I don't have a home to go at lunchtime, which was an engrained habit.
  • From the office walked over to the county building on 9th street to exercise my franchise as an "early" voter. Successfully changed my registration to the address of the diocesan office, though it was unclear for a while whether they would allow me to do that.
  • Dealt with some technology issues (installing scanner software on the new laptop) so I could follow up on a loose end from my morning appointment.
  • Slogged through technology of a different sort trying to find the best way of transferring some funds to our companion diocese of Peru. Progress made, but problem not yet solved.
  • Prepared a handout (one of many) for the clergy conference.
  • Opened the file on a sermon for Advent III (St John's, Centralia)--covering it with prayer, and taking a first pass at the readings, making a few notes.
  • Prayer the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner at a southern/soul food place down on South Grand.
  • Back in the office: cranked out #24 in the eventual 30 lectionary meditations for Forward Movement.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints

  • Usual AM weekday routine.
  • Made substantial progress working out the details of my response to a parish of the diocese that has requested delegation of episcopal oversight to another bishop. There is still a great deal in this situation yet to unfold.
  • Attended to some personal financial chores.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Planned and prepped for yet one more clergy conference session. The subject is Holy Week worship, and I pretty much know what I want to present. It just needs to be gotten into pixels, and reviewed for thoroughness.
  • Responded by email to a couple of administrative issues.
  • Did some routine turn-of-the-month calendar maintenance.
  • Took a brisk hour-long walk.
  • Evening Prayer.
  • Ordered some beef and chicken shawarma to be delivered for dinner. There are some advantages to living in a large city.
  • Packed for the weekend and hit the road at 7:10. Arrived in my Springfield office at 10:40, and I'm ensconced for the night.