Sunday, December 30, 2018

First Sunday after Christmas Day

Up and out of my Glen Carbon hotel room in time to celebrate the Holy Mysteries with the folks at St Bartholomew's, Granite City. Granite City is kind of gritty, blue-collar steel mill town that has seen its ups and downs. St Bartholomew's has a long and rich history there, but the regular congregation now consists of only about 10 or 12 people, and at least half of them rely on canes or walkers! That said, they are an immensely gracious and lovely group, and it is always my honor and joy to worship with them. My soul was fed by the experience, and Christ was glorified. I was back on the road at 1030, and home just before 3:30.

Sermon for Christmas I

St Bartholomew’s, Granite City--John 1:1-14

(This are my working notes. There was no developed text for this homily.)

Happy Sixth Day of Christmas. I hope you are continuing to celebrate!

Christmas Eve … familiar story/familiar words … Caesar Augustus … long journey to Bethlehem … “days were accomplished” … “no room in the inn” … angels and shepherds

We have (appropriately) sweetly sentimentalized this narrative … Prime example: In the Bleak Midwinter … “breast full of milk and a manger full of hay” … and are moved to respond, “What can I give him, poor as I am? … my heart”) … This is the public Christian face of Christmas

By contrast: Christmas morning, and the First Sunday … John: no baby Jesus, but the pre-incarnate Logos: “In the beginning was the Word … light shines in the darkness … Word was made flesh,” and moved into the neighborhood.

This is no story with a plot we can follow (drama, conflict, crisis, resolution), or characters we can empathize with. It appeals to our heads, not our hearts. But it’s a mistake to just blow it off for those reasons.

Now we celebrate not so much the feast of the *nativity* as the feast of the *incarnation* --
  • God (who is by nature pure spirit) taking human flesh,
  • the eternal becoming bound by time (per Luke: in the days of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria), the one who is omnipresent becoming subject to geographical particularity (Bethlehem of Judea),
  • one who is rich beyond measure being born to a humble (poor?) couple from a humble village,
  • one who has nothing to fear subjecting himself to the necessity of fleeing for his life just days after being born,
  • one who was present at creation, not as a creature but as creator, becoming part *of* that creation.

And why? To fully identify with us so he could save us. Homo-ousion. An iota makes all the difference in the world.

Best captured, perhaps, by the 18th century British poet Christopher Smart:

O Most mighty! O Most holy!
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
Art thou then so mean and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung:
O, the strength of infant weakness,
If Eternal is so young.

God all bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate, and a native,
Of the very world he made.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Saturday (St Thomas Becket)

Took leave of our gathered offspring and their offspring, after a wonderful family Christmas celebration over the last three days, packed for an overnight, and his the road southbound a little past 3pm. Made a brief stop in Springfield, and continued on down to an 8:30 arrival in Glen Carbon, where I'm I'm bedded down for the night ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Bartholomew's, Granite City.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas

After feting our eldest daughter over breakfast for her birthday, Brenda and I left our Chicago apartment midday yesterday and headed south to Springfield. I preached at the 5:30 Christmas Eve liturgy at the cathedral, and both presided and preached at the 11pm Mass. Between services, Brenda and I grabbed dinner at Cooper's Hawk. Both liturgies were lovely, and well-attended (noticeably up from recent years, and I've heard similar reports from around the diocese and beyond). We "camped out" in our former home, the house we still own but is vacant, which is still for sale or rent, whichever comes first. It was a little surreal to have an air bed be the only furniture in the place,, but it worked.  This morning we were up and back out by around 0900 and drove back to Chicago, arriving at 1245. We fixed dinner with our daughter, and generally had a low-key day. Tomorrow afternoon, more family arrive, so that is probably where I will be focusing until the weekend. I'll probably be dark in this venue until then.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Sermon

Springfield Cathedral

There is certainly no more emotional time of  year than Christmas. Holiday feelings present themselves, as if on cue, by such cultural symbols as red and green sweaters or table decorations, fake snow in store windows, toy soldiers and nutcrackers, George Bailey fighting to save his Building & Loan in Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchitt and Tiny Tim, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye trying to arrange one more tribute to General Waverly at the ski lodge, or any number of tunes which we’re likely to hear in virtually any public place beginning the day after Thanksgiving.

Intense feelings are aroused by Christmas traditions unique to particular families, even if the meaning has long since been forgotten. I once heard about a family for whom Christmas doesn’t happen until a blob of peanut butter is spread on somebody’s nose—nobody can say why anymore. For another family, it was a solemn Christmas ritual to slice of an inch from the top of the ham before putting it in the oven. This went on for years before somebody eventually explained that, decades earlier, in an apartment none of the family lived in anymore, the oven was exceptionally small, so they had to cut the top off the ham!

For each of us here tonight, this complex of feelings and symbols supplies us with a very personal signal that Christmas has officially arrived. For me, it’s when I here the last verse of the hymn “Once In Royal David’s City,” with a certain organ accompaniment and vocal descant. It’s like a remotely-triggered bomb in my heart: When my ears hear that music, the bomb goes off, and, for me, it’s finally Christmas. And the feelings associated with Christmas are, of course, positive ones: love and peace, good will and good cheer, cooperation and courtesy, festivity and joy.

Joy, in fact, is why we are here at this hour, doing what we’re doing. Holy Mother Church calls us to rejoice tonight, with an intensity that is matched only by the Great Vigil of Easter. The cathedral is decked out in its most splendid finery—vestments, flowers, silver, and polished brass.  Our most treasured music and our richest ceremony are on display tonight. We hear scriptures that speak of Good News. We sing “Gloria” and “Alleluia,” two of the most ancient and universal Christian shouts of joyful praise. In everything we do, we are proclaiming, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her King.”

But as we all know, Christmas also has a dark side. Ask any mental health care provider and you will learn that this is the time of year when their client load reaches its annual peak. People who are estranged from their families, or prevented by geography and finances from being with them, experience a profoundly painful form of loneliness at Christmastime. The incidence of suicide tends to spike upward during the month of December. And it is during this season that those who are already vulnerable to economic exploitation are in an even more precarious position than usual. The urge to provide children with exactly what will make their eyes light up on Christmas morning is virtually irresistible for a loving parent. This urge is responsible for a mountain of credit card debt that can take literally a lifetime to get free from.

So, maybe you don’t really much feel like rejoicing tonight. Maybe your credit cards are overworked getting ready for tomorrow morning. Maybe you’ve already eaten enough junk food at grazing parties to ruin your health for months to come. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss this past year that makes any Christmas joy fade into the background. Perhaps you are facing a crisis that requires a difficult decision, and you just don’t know what you’re going to do, and Christmas is, at best, a temporary distraction from oppressive anxiety. Maybe you are aware of a personal moral or ethical failure on your part that makes Christmas rejoicing seem hypocritical. Perhaps you are bitter about a relationship gone sour, or fond hopes that never quite seem to materialize, remaining just beyond your grasp. I could go on all night—there are plenty of reasons why any one of us is not prepared for the demand that we rejoice on this feast of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What, then, is the Church’s response to those who don’t feel like rejoicing? Well, there are two. The first one is a bit of a horse pill. We’re going to need a lot of buttermilk to wash it down. Put simply, it’s this: It doesn’t matter how you feel. Rejoice anyway. It’s your job. Have you ever noticed how sublimely apathetic the church calendar is toward the feelings of those who gather for worship? There is no set of instructions in the front of the Prayer Book that says to the priest, “Use these prayers, or these readings, or these hymns if you think people are in a good mood, and these others if you suspect they may be a little cranky.” The ushers didn’t take a survey at the door when you arrived tonight, and say,
 “Pessimists to the left, optimists to the right.”

The liturgy is not like eating at a five star restaurant, where you can order anything you’re hungry for off an extensive menu. No, it’s more like Aunt Betty’s Boarding House, where, if it’s Tuesday, meatloaf is what’s for dinner. If this is December 24, it must be Christmas Eve, so rejoicing is on the menu tonight, regardless of whether you or I are in the mood for it. And the reason is pretty much the same as why Aunt Betty serves spinach with her meatloaf— “Because it’s good for you!” God knows, the Church knows, that rejoicing is good for us, so we are commanded to rejoice.

Public worship isn’t really about sharing our moods with God, anyway. There’s certainly room for that in private prayer, but that’s not what corporate worship is for. Worship is about God sharing his moods with us. If it’s Advent or Ash Wednesday, we confess our sins and ask for the grace to repent. If it’s the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, we just keep on keeping on; everything’s normal. If it’s Easter or Christmas . . . we rejoice. In the end, it’s God’s mood, not ours, that’s important, and we do well to put our souls in phase with the rhythms of God’s heart. The liturgy is what helps us do just that.

But there’s another response that Holy Mother Church makes to those who don’t feel like rejoicing tonight, and this one is much softer and more sympathetic and understanding and appealing. To quote the medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich, “All is well. All is well. All manner of things shall be well.” And that isn’t just a 14th century version of “Don’t worry, be happy.” It’s much more profound than that, because it’s based on the solid foundation of the very reason for our rejoicing: God is with us. The Word has become flesh. The gap between heaven and earth has been forever bridged. Alienation and fear and despair do not have the last word. God has the last word, and that word is reconciliation, that word is hope, that word is love, that word is—yes—joy. We are invited to rejoice because there is more than enough reason to rejoice, no matter what else may be going on in our lives.

Christmas may be full of feelings, but Christmas joy is not merely a good mood, or sentimentality, or being happy that you got a raise, or rekindled an old flame, or solved a problem or because of any other conceivable circumstance in our concrete experience. Christmas joy happens, not only in spite of, but in the face of, all the other “stuff” that happens. In fact, the more such “stuff” our lives are full of, the more clearly we can see both our need for rejoicing and our reason for rejoicing. So, if you’re happy tonight because things are going well for you, then I give thanks with you. If you’re sad tonight because things are going poorly for you, then I weep with you. But in either case, I’m going to rejoice tonight, because it’s good for me, and I invite you to do the same, because it’s good for you, and because “All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well.”  

The Word is made flesh: Come, let us adore him. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent (O Emmanuel)

I had a bye on my visitation calendar today, so Brenda and I worshiped as part of the congregation at the 9am liturgy at the Church of the Ascension, Chicago (where the music, even at the "non-solemn" celebration, is to die for). While I am still in love with my current ministry, after nearly eight years as a bishop, I must confess that I miss the regularity of parish life. A parish community is a precious thing.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday (O Rex Gentium)

I had planned on this being a low-key "putter around the apartment and maybe run a couple of errands" day. Two things intervened to keep it from being that. First was the news, by phone from the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, that my predecessor once-removed, Bishop Donald Hultstrand, died last night at 92. He was a truly holy man. So there were phone calls and emails trying to sort out the arrangements, and the extent to which I will be able to participate, letting the diocese know, etc. The second intervenor was the discovery that my diocesan email account has been disconnected from the email client that I actually use for the past 2-3 days. This seems to happen from time to time, and it's annoying, and I don't know who's at fault. The fix is pretty easy, though a little time consuming. But it meant there was a pile of emails that I hadn't known about, some of which required immediate action, and some of that action time-consuming. So, while I put out all those fires, it got to be 1pm before I was able to pivot to the *domestic* task list that I had envisioned for the day. On that score, I finished my Christmas shopping, ran a grocery errand with Brenda, took a long walk, prayed both offices, did some routine financial chores, and got in a bit of reading (almost out of Purgatorio and into Paradisio in Dante's Divine Comedy),

Friday, December 21, 2018

St Thomas (O Oriens)

In these days immediately leading up to and following Christmas, much of the working world throttles way back, and even though I may not personally feel an urge to do so (one might plausibly argue that I should, given a somewhat obsessive penchant for productivity and checking items off task lists), I find that many of my dance partners become unavailable, and I'm forced to scale back. I did get an important writing project done today (drafting the script for the next "Seven Marks of Discipleship" video series), dealt with some companion diocese business, skimmed the Master's thesis (in theology) of one of our extremely bright seminarians, had a substantive conversation with the new rector of Edwardsville, prayed both offices, and took a hearty walk. Tomorrow I won't even make a pretense, and shift attention to my domestic task list, which is growing and eminently available.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday (O Clavis David)

This was one of those days where it felt difficult to get much traction on anything, probably owing mostly to the time devoted to accompanying Brenda on two longish doctor's appointments. In the midst of it all, I did manage to edit, refine, print, and schedule for posting my homily for Christmas Eve, deal with a bit of companion diocese business, and move the ball a couple of yards downfield in preparing for the clergy pre-Lenten retreat. I also managed to gratefully take mental note that it was the 29th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday (O Radix Jesse)

  • Morning Prayer and task planning per the current routine.
  • Got started developing the homiletical message statement for Epiphany into an actual outlined and plotted sermon.
  • Broke off from that work to keep an appointment to make my regular pre-Christmas confession at a (relatively) nearby parish. Stayed for the Mass that followed shortly thereafter.
  • Returned home and processed a stack of accumulated emails.
  • Cobbled together various sorts of leftovers to provide lunch for Brenda and me.
  • Got back to working on that Epiphany sermon, and finished with something that I can further develop into a rough draft text next week.
  • Returned to the project of adapting the Roman Catholic rite for exorcism for use in an Anglican context. Made major strides toward that goal. 
  • Took my daily walk, enjoying the multiplicity of route possibilities in a developed urban context.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tuesday (O Adonai)

  • Morning Prayer in the home oratory/chapel. Task planning over breakfast.
  • Sent out a sheaf of substantive emails over an array of matters--some pastoral, some administrative.
  • Took today's walk in the morning (sunny and relatively mild), stopping at a toy stone en route for a small bit of Christmas shopping, and arriving back home with Chinese carry-out for lunch.
  • Knocked off another big chunk on the exorcism liturgy project.
  • Made air travel and lodging arrangements in Toronto for a meeting next month of the Canadian iteration of the Communion Partner bishops. I will attend as a guest, representing their U.S. colleagues.
  • Attended to a bit of administrative work pertaining to one of our geographic parishes.
  • Performed some routine scheduled personal organization maintenance--cleaning up the "desktop" on my computer.
  • Reviewed and edited the draft bulletin for my (re-scheduled) visitation to St Bartholomew's, Granite City on the 30th.
  • Evening Prayer in the oratory/chapel.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

All's well that ends well. but there was rather more drama than I care for en route to getting there. I was awake and up and 0-dark-thirty, and aware that I didn't need to set out for Centralia until 0900, so I decided to grab a walk after offering Morning Prayer in the dark cathedral. But, first, it seemed prudent to move the YFNBmobile out of the diocesan garage, lest some inattentive cathedral parishioner decide to park in front of it. I entered the code on the keypad, and ... nothing. Did it again, lots of times. Still nothing. Got hold of a locksmith, and after I described what I was looking at on the garage doors, he informed that that he would be of no help, and that I needed to call a garage door company. Called several garage door companies, and left passionate voicemail messages. While waiting for a response, I cleaned up, got my "working" clothes on, and got packed, ready to load the yet inaccessible vehicle. Tried the code a few more times, to no avail. Prayed a lot. Started to panic. Finally, one of the garage door guys got back to me, and didn't have good news: There's no electronic equivalent to picking a lock. I should probably call a locksmith. It's getting to be past 0845, and I am not in a good mood. There used to be a clicker for the garage door. Where could it be? I loook around the office. Another garage door guy calls, and points out that there should be a lock in the center of the door that gives access to a cord that can release the door. But I have no key, and there would be no time to get a locksmith out and still get me to Centralia on time. I try the code for the 59th time (or something like that) ... and it works. After heading a couple of blocks down 2nd street, only to double back and retrieve something I'd forgotten, I'm on the road at 0915, and in Centralia in plenty of time for the regular 1130 liturgy at St John's. Suffice it to say, we will be having somebody look at the garage door opener. And try to find the clicker. Or order a new one. Whew. 

 St John's recently entered an exciting ecumenical venture, partnering with an ELCA congregation, Redeemer, that made the decision to sell its building. St John's and Redeemer now worship and serve as one congregation, each keeping its identity in their respective synods. Fr David Baumann is both the Episcopal priest-in-charge, and the ELCA permanent interim pastor. During Advent, they use the Lutheran liturgy and Episcopal hymns, so I got to celebrate Mass using the Lutheran rite. It had all the elements to make it "kosher" from an Episcopal perspective, though many of the words were different. It was kind of fun.  

I made it home to Chicago around 6:15.

Homily for III Advent

St John’s, Centralia--Luke 3:7–17, Philippians 4:4–9
                                                                            
If you pay close attention to what’s going on in church at this time of year, you’ll eventually notice that the season of Advent has a very peculiar shape. Next Sunday we’ll be able to sing, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!” because we’ll be hearing about the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary and telling her … well, you know how that one goes. Two weeks ago, it was all doom and gloom. We heard Jesus talk about some really scary stuff—wars, natural disasters, violent social unrest—that would be signs of the end of the world as we know it.

So the beginning of Advent is apocalyptic, the end of Advent is Christmas-y, and the middle of Advent, where we are now, last Sunday and today, is … well, kind of awkward. The star of the show is John the Baptist, who—let’s face it—is just not a fun guy. He’s rude and crude. You would never invite him to a holiday party. He’s dressed in a camel skin. His diet consists of insects and wild honey. He always seems angry, and he doesn’t mind insulting people. Clearly, he doesn’t care what people think of him. We wish he would either … you know … clean up or go away.

John talks about repentance, and repentance is absolutely nobody’s favorite subject. Repentance invites us first to self-examination—as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, to take a “fearless moral inventory” of ourselves—and when is that ever fun? And the result of repentance, most likely, will be that we’ll feel guilty, and that we should make some changes in our habits of speaking and acting, which is never not painful. This all certainly violates the holiday spirit, right?!

But if we work past our initial misgivings, and attend carefully to John’s actual words in this passage from Luke, we might find ourselves a little bit relieved rather than put off or intimidated. Perhaps somewhat to John’s surprise, the people we read about in this passage actually listen, they actually take him seriously. He apparently succeeds in “putting the fear of God into them.” They want to escape the dire consequences that he predicts, so they ask him, “What should we do? How can we get out of this mess?” There are three categories of his listeners who put questions to him: what Luke calls “the crowds,” then tax collectors, then soldiers.

First, the crowds. John’s advice to them can be summed up in one word—share. In other words, something most of us learned in kindergarten! Play well with others. Don’t hoard all the good stuff that you have just because you caught a break, and stumbled into the right place at the right time. Share it with those who weren’t as lucky.

Next come the tax collectors. Now, remember, tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth, absolute social vermin. They were collaborators with an oppressive occupying government, and, the way their arrangement with that government was structured, they were incentivized to cheat, to gouge. So what was John’s counsel to them? Don’t cheat. Don’t gouge. Be fair, abide by the rules, don’t try to exploit the people you’re collecting taxes from, just because you can. Now, isn’t that the very image of the “good person” we all aspire to be?

What about the soldiers? These were probably not members of the Roman legion, but mercenaries who had a similar financial arrangement with Rome as did the tax collectors; they had an incentive to engage in racketeering. What does John say? Don’t be greedy. Don’t give others a reason to resent and hate you.

None of this is moral rocket science, is it? There’s nothing in what John says that is obscure or complicated or elite or mystical. It’s just good, basic, self-evident personal morality. Be nice, have good sandbox manners, don’t be a scumbag. It’s not even particularly inspiring. There’s no call to “change the world,” or even make it “a better place.” Just behave and mind your own business.

John warns us to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” But what does that fruit look like? Apparently, it looks like ordinary, boringly wholesome, self-evident stuff. And this is precisely the good news for today: Bearing fruit worthy of repentance is a clear and attainable goal. Which means, of course, that we are pretty much without excuse if we fall short of it!

We can even “do” repentance before we “feel” repentant. So often we think of repentance as something that needs to be profoundly felt, something that comes from the heart. Well, it probably should in most cases, and usually is. But it doesn’t have to be, at least not immediately. It can be a decision, an act of the mind and the will. There’s no need to wait for inspiration or a bolt-from-the-blue mystical insight, because what we need to do is so unmistakably obvious! It’s OK if our feelings about it lag. They’ll catch up!

And when we do eventually feel repentant, we’re going to like the way we feel, because it will lead immediately to indescribable joy. The traditional epistle reading for the Third Sunday of Advent, back when there was only a one-year lectionary, was the passage from Philippians that we get today, in Year C of the three-year cycle: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The sort of basic good behavior that John the Baptist talks about is the practical fruit of repentance, but the emotional and spiritual fruit of repentance is the kind of joy and low anxiety that Paul urges on the Philippians. And right on the heels of such joy, Paul says, is “the peace of God, which passes all understanding.”  Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday

  • Got up and walked down toe Charlie Parker's. Ate breakfast. Walked back. Reached and exceeded my 10,000 step daily goal.
  • Cleaned up. Read MP in the cathedral. Processed a handful of emails that were leftover from yesterday,
  • Kept and appointment with an Eastern Illinois University professor who is interested in organizing and helping lead an Anglican history tour to France and England for folks from the diocese. Perhaps this idea will grow some legs.
  • Ran some personal errands at Sam's Club and Target, grabbing lunch from Wendy's. Got the YFNBmobile washed.
  • Relaxed in my office in front of a Netflix TV show.
  • Scanned, categorized, and tagged the stack of items in my physical inbox.
  • Did some internet research on the Fresh Expressions movement, upon the recommendation of one of my colleague bishops.
  • Created and named a Dropbox folder on the diocesan account that is designated for archives--both scanned old items and electronic versions of new items. Archive management is not mission-critical, but it's hugely considerate of those who come after us. I hope to think that future historiographers of the Diocese of Springfield will rise up and call us blessed.
  • Processed some more emails.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Read a canto in Dante's Purgatorio. (I've been slogging through the Divine Comedy for some time now.)
  • Walked down to Bernie & Betty's for a dinner of beef ravioli. Ran an errand to Schnucks. Watched some more Netflix. Recorded over 21,000 steps for the day--nearly 10 miles.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday (St John of the Cross)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drove down to McDonald's for a breakfast sandwich.
  • Organized my work for the day.
  • Signed a raft of episcopal election consent requests, and one retirement consent request. Approved all save for one of the elections (but I'm quite certain the consecration will go forward nonetheless).
  • Reviewed a draft of the next issue of the Springfield Current. Noticed several items that needed attention and shared this with Paige just about the time she walked into the office. Took the opportunity to consult with her on another subject.
  • Reviewed a spreadsheet from Sue regarding needed hotel reservations for my 2019 visitation schedule. Filled in blanks as appropriate. (There are 19 overnights on Saturdays slated for the year.)
  • Edited, refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Centralia).
  • Used a 10-minute winder of opportunity to take a brisk walk around 2-3 blocks.
  • Kept an 11am appointment with someone in the early-ish stages of the ordination discernment process. It was an animated conversation, the sort of thing that's fun even for an introvert.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten in the office.
  • Another brisk walk--down Spring to South Grand, over the 5th, and back up.
  • Met with a cleric of the diocese to assist that cleric in thinking though a personal matter.
  • Gave Paige another project to attend to between now and mid-January.
  • Yet one more walk--this time up 2nd to Capitol, east to 5th, down to Lawrence, and back over. This got me to my 10K step goal.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral. The windows along the geographic south/liturgical north side of the nave provide a superb visual aid for this devotion.
  • Took about 45 minutes to drill down on some personal income tax planning issues that spring from having relocated my residence to Chicago, which has created a quandary for our treasurer and accountants. It is becoming clear to me why tax collectors are so consistently vilified in the pages of holy scripture.
  • Devoted some time to a bit of early-stage logistical planning for February's clergy pre-Lenten retreat.
  • Attended to some more logistical planning, this time related to my visit to Nashotah House in January to see our three residential seminarians there.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner at the home of Deacon Tom and Elisabeth Langford--a lovely and gracious time.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday (St Lucy)

  • Morning Prayer before dawn in our domestic oratory.
  • Fixed tea and "paleo" pancakes while conversing with Brenda.
  • Took my daily walk on the early side today, leaving at 0815 and returning at 0930.
  • Got cleaned up, began to pack, replied to an email, organized some things I needed to bring with me to Springfield, finished packing, and left the apartment a little past 1100. 
  • Headed south, with a fast-food lunch stop past the Des Plaines River, and pulled into the diocesan center at 2:50, ten minutes ahead of a 3:00 appointment.
  • Met with diocesan treasurer Rod Matthews for about an hour.
  • Processed accumulated hard-copy items on my desk 
  • Got started on a *very* thick stack of emails, all of which required a fairly prompt response.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner at Freddy's Steakburgers on West Wabash, then back to the office for more email processing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

  • Morning Prayer in the home oratory. Task planning and internet skimming over breakfast.
  • Mixed it up with my notes on the readings for Epiphany (Sunday, Jan. 6 at Trinity, Jacksonville) and came out of the fray with a homiletical message statement, to be further developed.
  • Responded to a couple of emails from the Bishop of Tabora.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Christmas Eve (at the cathedral).
  • Made arrangements to make my pre-Christmas confession next week.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to see her primary-care physician, following up on her episode on Saturday. More tests ordered. While in the waiting room, processed some newly-arrived emails.
  • Took the 75-minute walk that has become a fixture of my days. I'm committed to keeping the pedal to the medal on exercise. I want to stay healthy and energetic as long as I can.
  • Mored the ball several yards down the field toward adapting and "Anglicizing" the Roman Catholic rite for exorcism, for use, if and when needed, by our diocesan exorcist. This is an ongoing project.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday

The main accomplishment of the day was to closely proofread the thirty daily office lectionary reflections I agreed to write for appearance on Forward Day by Day next November. I also took Brenda to an eye doctor appointment, had lunch with the rector of the Church of the Ascension, trying to muster such pastoral wisdom as I have within me toward some of the complex issues he faces in a complex parish, took a phone call from the president of the Standing Committee, and dealt substantively by email with three separate emerging pastoral/administrative concerns. Prayed both Morning and Evening Prayer, the latter with Brenda.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

With original plans scuttled by yesterday's medical drama, we found ourselves unexpectedly in Chicago on a Sunday. We elected to worship with the congregation at St Paul's-by-the-Lake, where I know handful of folks. St Paul's is robustly Angl0-Catholic, in a quite conservative style. Yet, attendance was good, with a beautiful demographic diversity, both in age and ethnicity. Lots of young families. Quite a lively and lovely spirit. Later in the day, after a long walk, I read and responded to an Ember Day letter (sent early) from one of our seminarians, and attended to some routine personal organization chores. Dinner with Brenda at a nearby Argentine steak house (it was excellent).

Sermon for II Advent

St Bartholomew's, Granite City--Luke 3:1-6, Baruch 5:1-9, Psalm 126, Philippians 1:111

Most of you probably don’t know that there was a period in my life—actually, it seems like a different lifetime—when I was a salesman. I was not, by any reckoning, a very good salesman, but whenever I point that out, someone invariably comes back with the quip, “But what do you call what you’re doing now?!”—the implication being that, even though I’m not paid on commission, what my ministry is about, is, in effect, selling the gospel, or Christ, or the Church, or something along those lines. Well…whatever. This much I know: Making a sale involves the buyer coming to the conclusion that there is some advantage to him or her in making the purchase. The first essential question that must be answered in any sales process is “What’s in it for me?”

Now, if I’m going to have to listen to anyone call me a salesman for what I do, I’m just going to hold up a mirror and remind everyone that, if I’m a salesman, then all of you are too. The Church—the whole community of the baptized—is in the business of telling anyone who will listen that God loves them madly, and has gone to great lengths to be friends with them, and invites them to join the community of those who have decided to take him up on his offer of friendship. This activity is called evangelism, and when we do it, we have to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question just as surely as does the seller of perfume or mutual funds or hot dogs or real estate.

Different brands of Christians have different responses to the evangelistic “What’s in it for me?” question. Those who might generally be described as Fundamentalist Protestants have a rather dramatic way of framing the question. I once saw a tract entitled “The First Five Minutes After Death.” The author clearly set out two scenarios: Those who have at any time intentionally said a prayer by which they confess their sinfulness to God, put their trust in Christ alone to save them from the consequences of that sinfulness, and invite Christ into their lives, will be ushered immediately in the blissful nearer presence of God. Those who have not said such a prayer will be consigned directly to Hell, where they will literally suffer intense physical pain for endless ages. Well, if and when one comes to the point of accepting that these are the only two choices, with no ambiguity or shades of gray, the “What’s in it for me?” question is answered pretty resoundingly.

Christians of a more liberal persuasion, however, have a different answer: the world is full of social problems. There is injustice, oppression, bigotry, poverty, gun violence, corruption, illiteracy—the list could go on and on—these things are all around us. God wants to do something about these problems. But the only arms and legs and hands and feet God has belong to us. As John F. Kennedy said almost 56 years ago in his inaugural speech, “God’s work must truly be our own.” By becoming a Christian, one can join God’s army, enlist on God’s team. We can be instruments of God’s peace, and help usher in God’s kingdom of justice and love. Surely this is itself a significant reward; ample motivation for becoming a Christian.

But there’s another response to the “What’s in it for me?” question. I call it the Advent Response. The Advent Response is, “You want to know what’s in it for you? Well, how would you like a ringside seat for the decisive battle of all time—the victory of Almighty God over the forces of Evil and Death? How would you like a front row seat for a more spine-tingling action drama than any human mind could conceive—the re-creation and redemption of the universe?” In today’s liturgy, we are confronted with the primal images and metaphors of Advent. A place is prepared for the arrival of God’s Holy One. A hostile wilderness is tamed. A channel is carved through the mountains that divide human communities from one another. The canyons and ravines that we lose our way in are raised up. Highways are built to connect God’s people with one another. And my favorite metaphor of all: That which is crooked is made straight. With this image, I can’t help but imagine God as Bob Vila, the guy who first popularized home renovation on TV about 30 years ago. He, and his imitators now on HGTV, could take a derelict old building, and imagine its former glory and its inner beauty. And he had the knowledge and skill and perseverance to restore that glory and reveal that beauty for all to see. The Advent Response is to

prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made plain; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 

As we make the Advent Response a habit of our own hearts, we begin to experience “what’s in it for us.” At a very personal and individual level, we see small blessings come our way, and we know the One who is behind those blessings, the Great Lover of our soul. We experience healing—maybe from a minor headache, maybe from cancer—and we know who is behind that healing. We come to realize that we are forgiven, the slate wiped clean, the foolish things we have done dispensed with, and we are filled with gratitude toward the One who is the source of that forgiveness. We feel ourselves mysteriously and gracefully drawn—called—to a vocation in life; we experience what it is to be a round peg in a round hole, and songs of praise flow from our hearts in adoration of the One who has issued that call. Over time, we realize that we are growing in holiness, becoming more like Jesus, that we are cultivating the habits in this life that will enable us to be fully alive in the next.

As we make the Advent Response a habit of our own hearts, we begin to experience “what’s in it for us” not only personally and individually, but socially. We come to realize that our connection to the Head also connects us to the Body, that we cannot know Christ without also knowing his Church. We grow in our awareness that the communal life of the Church is not an optional extra, a pleasant frill, but lies at the core of our Christian identity. The bond that God establishes in baptism connects us not only with him, but with one another. We become devoted, in particular, to the Eucharist, which ever reconstitutes the Church, and in which the Church is most clearly and purely herself. This leads us to a more profound discipleship, a deeper giving over of our hearts and minds and wills to Christ, allowing our faith to penetrate every aspect of our lives. Discipleship, in turn, forms us in servanthood—a servanthood that expresses itself in radical devotion to one another, but also acts as a leavening agent in society. We become subversives, God’s secret agents, who transform society not by revolution, but by quietly turning it inside out just by being who we are as the Church, by loving one another, and letting the world know we are Christians by our love.

Finally, as we make the Advent Response a habit of our own hearts, we begin to experience “what’s in it for us” at a cosmic level. Everywhere we turn, we see sinners repenting and being forgiven. Everywhere we turn, we see Evil declawed and defanged and the good of which all evil is a corruption displayed in bright array. Everywhere we turn, we see Death being swallowed up in victory, choking on itself and dying.

So, what’s in it for us? In a word, Joy is what’s in it for us. The Old Testament apocryphal book of Baruch is an anthem of joy flowing from the Advent Response. The prophet echoes Isaiah in a startling way:

For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. … For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him. 

The Epistle to the Philippians reiterates the same theme, with St Paul in the first of what would be a whole string of references to joy and rejoicing in the course of his letter:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

And the Psalmist is certainly not to be outdone in this department:

6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Lost among all the media hype surrounding the fortieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination was the obscure fact that there was another significant death on the very same day—the death of the British author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis. Professor Lewis has had a tremendous influence in forming several generations of Christian minds and hearts, including my own. One of his most influential books is his spiritual autobiography, entitled Surprised By Joy. He articulates a notion of Joy that far surpasses the shallow emotion of a smiley face or the exhortation to “Have a nice day.” For Lewis, Joy is a profound and abiding conviction that, whatever comes our way, all will be well in the end, and we will be happier than we could ever imagine, because of the deathless love of God made known to us in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord. Indeed, inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be trained by the Advent response, we will most certainly find ourselves Surprised By Joy.

Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Saturday (Immaculate Conception)

There are plans and there is life. Today, life won. It was supposed to be a leisurely morning ahead of a 1:00-2:00 departure to the Hampton Inn Edwardsville/Glen Carbon and a visitation tomorrow to St Bartholomew's, Granite City. It ended up with a canceled visitation after several hours of quality time in the ER at Swedish Covenant Hospital. In our living room, seated on a couch (for which we are grateful), Brenda passed out and started to convulse. After about five seconds, she was fine. But we couldn't not have it checked out, since it was the second fainting episode within a month. The prevailing theory is what they call orthostasis due to insufficient hydration. Tests for other things (cardiac, electrolytes) all came back negative. We'll be following up with her primary doctor ASAP. In the meantime, I need to stick close to her, and I'm sure the good people of St Bartholomew's are understanding about this, although it is wrenchingly uncomfortable for me to not be with them as planned.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday (St Ambrose)

Out of retreat now, and back in the saddle. My personal circumstances may dictate a rather unorthodox style, but the formula is pretty classic: pray ... read ... reflect ... write ... repeat. And, perhaps, sleep a tad more than usual. As such things go, I would say that is "worked."
As for today:
  • Task planning over breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer with Brenda.
  • Edited, refined, printed (placing the hard copy in my car), and scheduled for posting this Sunday's homily (St Bartholomew's, Granite City).
  • Reached out by email to a priest whose parish I am visiting soon.
  • Wrote an email (in Spanish) to the Bishop of Peru, letting him know he'll shortly be receiving a modest financial contribution from the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Lunch from Pizza Hut, eaten at home.
  • Reached out by phone and email regarding a pastoral matter.
  • Wrote and posted (on the website) my article for the next edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Took a brisk 75-minute walk. (With temps in the mid-20s, it was never going to be anything but brisk!).
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on tomorrow OT reading from the daily office lectionary.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • Mid-evening, made a start on adapting the current Roman Catholic authorized rite for exorcism for use in the Diocese of Springfield. This will be a bit of a project.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

First Sunday of Advent

Up and out of my improvised Springfield accommodations in time to report to St Paul's, Carlinville 30 minutes ahead of the regular 0915 liturgy. It was, for them, a good turnout, just north of 30 souls. The musical artistry of their organist, Diane Aikin, was Advent balm for my Advent-loving spirit. I was particularly pleased to see them singing the Psalm at the Eucharist, responsorially ... because that's what one does with Psalms. Spirited time visiting with folks over food following the service. Fr John Henry presides over a community whose members enjoy one another's company. 

Following my customary day off tomorrow, I will be on personal retreat through Thursday. So my next post in this space will be one Friday.

Sermon for Advent Sunday

St Paul's, Centralia--Luke 21:25-31

When we watch a scary or suspenseful movie for the first time, it’s easy for us to forget that what we’re watching on the screen is not actually happening, but that actors are delivering lines written by an author, and moving according to the wishes of a director, and that there are banks of cameras and audio equipment just beyond our field of view. Our emotions correspond to what we’re watching, as if it were real. But if we watch the same film a second or third time, our emotional responses become less intense. We know how it ends. There’s no longer any reason to be frightened or anxious on behalf of the characters in the drama. We watch the action as if through different eyes.

As Christians, as the people of God and the Body of Christ, we have a similar advantage as we watch the compelling drama called real life play out in our experience. It’s not like we have a script that feeds us every line and blocks every move, so there is still an element of suspense. But we do have a plot summary—a library of documents called the Holy Scriptures—we have a plot summary that tells us the ending. We know everything comes out OK. The good guys in the white hats arrive on the scene just in time to untie the widow from the railroad tracks and throw the villain in jail. God wins; Satan loses. We are confident in the knowledge of our ultimate redemption.

Outside the context of faith in Christ, however, real life is at least a melodrama, and very often a suspense story, if not a horror film. This reality is brought home to me every time I preside at a funeral. The traditional Christian burial rites provide such a level of meaning and comfort, and lend such appropriate dignity to the occasion,
that it’s difficult for me to imagine mourning the loss of a loved one, or preparing for my own death, in any other way. Rarely have grieving family members not mentioned to me how supportive the funeral liturgy is and how grateful they are for it.

In the absence of a well-grounded, well-formed, and mature faith, the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” the trials and tribulations of our lives, seem random and utterly devoid of significance. The daily grind of getting up in the morning, trying to make a living, and tending to the essential infrastructure of our lives, from taking out the trash to flossing our teeth—this all becomes a burden that is depressing just to contemplate. Bumps along the way—cars that won’t start, checks that bounce, relationships that turn sour, people who betray us, cancers that metastasize—bumps along the way only add insult to injury. Earthquakes, floods, fires, famines, droughts, train wrecks, and plane crashes become the punch lines of some cosmic standup comic
with a sick and twisted sense of humor. It’s no surprise that the dispensers of anti-depressants are doing such a brisk business. It’s no surprise that people, particularly in “advanced” First World cultures, continue to abuse alcohol and nicotine and other drugs. It’s no surprise that we are so confused about sexuality and gender and what any of it means, if anything. It’s no surprise that we are consumed by acquisitiveness.
We can’t appreciate anything unless we can own it, any more than a one-year old can appreciate an object if he can’t put it in his mouth. As a society, we are chronically and relentlessly driven, but we have no clear idea what our destination is. These, my friends, are the signs of our times.

Our Lord Jesus has some pointed words about reading the signs of the times as we examine his apocalyptic discourse, this time as it is recorded for us by St Luke. (You may remember that, a couple of weeks ago, we looked at St Mark’s parallel version.)
He talks about the end time, the culmination of history as we know it, and that the days leading up to the apocalypse will be accompanied by massive social and political unrest, economic dislocation, and natural disasters. The language can easily be construed to predict both the projected effects of global warming and the incessant Hollywood preoccupation with objects from outer space colliding with the earth.

And then Jesus offers the very homely example of a tree changing its appearance as the seasons change, and how, if we can tell what time of year it is by looking at a tree, we ought also to be able to “read” what God is doing by looking at the signs of the times.

What Jesus is inviting us to do is to take a good look at that plot summary God has provided us with, and to live our lives not as if we were watching an action or suspense or horror movie for the first time, but, rather, as if we were viewing a re-run, a story that we already know the ending of, and it’s a happy ending. When friends stab us in the back, when loved ones let us down, when the stock market takes a dive, when the body politic of our country seems to have cracked along a fault line running right down the middle, when your teenage daughter says “I’m pregnant,” or the boss says, “You’re fired,” or the doctor says, “You’ve got cancer”—we know that the story doesn’t end there. The final scene of the final act is yet to come. The credits have not yet begun to roll. Read the signs of the times. It is going to get worse before it gets better. The darkest part of the night is just before the dawn, when Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ,
comes down in a cloud with power and great glory.

I am among those who enjoy taking long trips by automobile. When Brenda and I lived in California many years ago, it was almost an annual habit of mine to drive to the midwest to visit family. If I could cross two time zones in a single day, was a real high! When I would return home to central California after being away on one of these journeys, I noticed certain things that otherwise escaped my attention. The absence of mile markers on the side of the road, for instance, and the presence of raised dots between the lanes—something we can’t do in our part of the world because they don’t play well with snow plows!—were signs that I was definitely back in California, and getting close to home. The species of plant along the highway median was a sign that I was in the central valley, and not anywhere else. A reddish hue along the side of the road was a sign that the tomato harvest was in progress. Without even thinking about it, I “read” these signs, and my body responded with a rush of adrenalin. I was all of a sudden not sleepy anymore. I took delight in familiar voices and familiar announcements on familiar radio stations. I rejoiced in anticipation of the end of my journey, and in gratitude for my safe arrival home.

Jesus tells us that this is the attitude we should have when we read the signs of impending apocalypse. For those who are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how the story will end, such signs are occasions of great anxiety and distress. But we have that plot summary. We know how the story ends. We can see a long-expected Jesus just outside the margin of our viewing screen. Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

This is what the season of Advent is about—keeping vigil, watching, praying, growing in holiness, joyfully contemplating the return of our Savior in power and great glory. 
Maranatha—Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Saturday (Nicholas Ferrar)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Walked to Charlie Parker's for breakfast  (2.2 miles).
  • Walked from Charlie Parker's to the blood bank to make a scheduled donation (2.6 miles).
  • Walked to the home that I still make payments on but remains vacant, to generally inspect it and turn down the thermostats (2.4 miles).
  • Walked back to the office (2.5 miles).
  • Took off my shoes and rested a good long while, lunching on leftovers from yesterday.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with birthdays and wedding anniversaries in December,. Wrote emails to those with ordination anniversaries (for which December is a banner month).
  • Responded to accumulated emails and various other small administrative items.
  • Did a year's worth of *master* sermon planning plotting.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Went out to find some steak for dinner, given that I had left a slew of red cells at the blood bank.
  • Responded substantively to a substantive email I found waiting for me when I got back to the office.