Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tuesday

  • Usual weekday early AM routine.
  • Carefully read another in the series of catechetical pamphlets published by the Living Church Foundation. So far, so good. About five more to go.
  • Spent the rest of the morning roughing out (in considerable detail, though my next post for the Covenant blog, due next week.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Plotted a course toward preaching at a "side gig" at the Church of the Ascension in Chicago on August 11, when I don't have a visitation in the diocese.
  • Attended via a email to a couple of pastoral-administrative matters.
  • Took advantage of the sunshine and warmth to empty a bottle of herbicide on the volunteer greenery where only concrete should be around our building.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon working on my sexuality and marriage teaching document. I continue to be pleased with how it's coming. But it's a long slog.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday

Once in a great while, probably due to inept planning on my part, I finish all the ministry-related actions I had planned for the week. That happened this morning after I knocked out a couple of emails. So I turned my attention to a looming domestic to-do list, and made a few inroads. The same will apply tomorrow, and since this Sunday is a "bye" on my visitation calendar, I take a break from this space in the blogsphere until Tuesday.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Corpus Christi

  • Usual working weekday early morning routine.
  • Dialed into a video conference of the board of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, and devoted most of my attention to that for the next 90 minutes.
  • Worked the rest of the morning on my pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Prepared a homily for Proper 11 (July 22), when I will be on vacation, but preaching in my "home parish" of St Timothy's in Salem, OR, which sent me and my family off to Nashotah House 33 years ago--that is, I reworked one from several years ago, but saw it all the way through the refining and printing stage.
  • Carefully read another in the Living Church catechetical series.
  • Throughout the day, whatever I was doing was frequently punctuated by email volleys over a couple of administrative issues.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday

A rather normal work-from-home weekday at both ends, and much of the middle, but with an unusually high degree of unanticipated emails and phone calls that had to be handled on the fly and were never part of my planned to-do list. I did deal with some deployment issues, respond to a late Ember Day letter, do some routine calendar maintenance, install some straggling software (the music publisher Finale) that failed to migrate from the old laptop, and finish catching up on deferred blog reading. Brenda and I also got a nice walk in before the weather went south. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tuesday (Bernard Mizeki)

  • Usual early AM weekday routine.
  • Caught up on a handful of administrative chores by email (personnel, companion diocese, mystagogy project, inter alia). None were particularly huge but none were particularly small, either. It consumed most of the morning.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Began to study a new set of catechetical resources now available through the Living Church Foundation, toward the end of being able to recommend them knowledgeably to the clergy of the diocese.
  • Read the Mission Strategy Report from one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Attended to another administrative issue. Dashed off a note to the Chancellor.
  • Began to catch up on some backlogged blog reading. 
  • Left around 5pm with Brenda for Wrigley Field, where we took in a Cubs game with a group of alumni of Westmont College, our alma mater. We were sure we would be the oldest ones there, but there turned out to be one older, and he was my Resident Assistant in the dorm I lived in my freshman and sophomore years!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday

It felt like a leisurely morning, since we didn't have any significant driving to do, and things didn't get started at Trinity, Mt Vernon until 0930. So, after clearing out of the Doubletree and enjoying the breakfast buffet, we headed over to the church,. It was my joy to lead the final adult class of the program year, then preside and preach at the Mass for the parish's feast of title, followed by a hamburger-and-hot dog cookout on a warm and sultry day. Brenda and I were back on the road northbound right at 1pm, arriving home at 5:45, having covered 275 miles and a 30-degree drop in temperature. Summer has so far been elusive in Chicagoland.

Sermon for Trinity Sundaty

Trinity, Mt Vernon--Revelation 4:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, John 16: 5-15

It comes as no news flash, I’m sure, that there are people in the society around us who are skeptical about some of the claims that Christianity makes, about the beliefs that Christians share. In response to this, Christians have developed certain counter-arguments that attempt to refute those objections, and show how they are inconsistent or incoherent. This activity is known as apologetics. Books have been written about apologetics; you can take classes in it. Of all the challenges that a Christian apologist must face, by far the most daunting is the problem of pain, the problem of evil: How can a good God let such horrible things happen to innocent people?

But I would strongly suspect that the second most challenging issue in Christian apologetics is the theology of the Trinity. For Jews and Muslims—that is, for about a third of the world’s population—it’s sheer blasphemy. To them, it sounds like Christians worship three gods, rather than the one true and living God, the God of Abraham. And to those whose religious opinions are loosely formed by our loosely Christian culture, but who are not themselves actively practicing Christians, the notion of the Trinity seems like an arcane intellectual exercise, one that doesn’t have any relevance to the ordinary everyday lives of ordinary everyday people. Why does Christianity have to be so complicated, with the Son being “begotten” by the Father, though not in any way created by the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceeding” from the Father—or is it the Father and the Son?—well, that depends on who you talk to(!), and the question has been one that for centuries has kept certain Christians from being able to share the Body and Blood of Christ at the same altar with certain other Christians. Can’t we just call the whole thing off? Certainly something as complex and sensitive as Trinitarian theology is not something God would insist we believe in, right?

That’s an excellent question, actually. So let’s pick it apart and see if we can find something that gets us excited, something that hits us where we live—or at least makes us thankful—on this Trinity Sunday. If we did not have the traditional orthodox articulation of God as “trinity of persons in unity of being,” if we dispensed with the habit of thinking of God as, in a sense, a “community,” “the godhead,” with the persons of the Trinity in harmonious balance with one another, what would be the downside risks? What would we lose?

What would happen, for instance, if we were to de-emphasize the person of God the Father, and turn our focus to God incarnate—that is, Jesus, a human being we can relate to—along with the Holy Spirit, whom we could understand as just another way of talking about the ongoing presence of Jesus in our midst? What we would get is an extremely inward-focused version of the faith that would take on the characteristics that we associate with a cult—strong ties between members that are not of the healthy sort, very clannish, turned inward, with very little concern for the surrounding world. This closeness would be based on a shared experience of an intense personal relationship with Jesus and an ecstatic experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. Something very dark is unleashed, though, when we give up a balanced Trinitarian theology that appreciates the first person of the Trinity, God the Father, and his sovereign redemptive purpose for the entire created order. It is such an appreciation for the Fatherhood of God that keeps us from turning inward and collapsing into irrelevance, and, instead, turns our attention outward to the world God made and the world God loves and the world God wants to redeem.  

So, what happens, then, if we allow the second person of the Holy Trinity—God the Son—to slip through the cracks, and organize our worship of God and service to God only around the Father and the Holy Spirit? What would happen is that we would lose our connection with the means that God has chosen to redeem the world that he made and loves—namely, the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one of God, God’s eternal Word forever made flesh. In short, we would lose our connection with the Paschal Mystery—“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” or “We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” There would be little motivation to celebrate the Eucharist, because we would have lost contact with the mystery that the Eucharist puts us in touch with. Our practice of Christian religion would be reduced to a line from a popular hymn, now deleted from our own hymnal: “Father-love is reigning o’er us, brother-love binds man to man.” We would come together on Sundays, more or less out of habit, to worship a generic God, and try to cooperate with what we perceive as the spirit of that God by attempting to solve the social ills of the world by the force of our own wills and the sweat of our own brows, taking such inspiration as we can from well-meant but theologically-misguided exhortations like “We must make God’s work truly our own.” Without Christ, without the second person of the Trinity, we would find ourselves failing at trying to serve a God who wants to save us but can’t quite figure out how to do so. The Church would be little more than a do-gooders club.

And what, then, if we hang on to the Father and the Son, but let loose of the Holy Spirit as excess baggage? After all, the Holy Spirit is the least well-understood person of the Godhead, and seems more of a cheerleader than anything else. If we have to “downsize” God to make Christianity more intelligible to those in the world around us, maybe giving God the Holy Spirit a layoff notice is the way to go. Well, what we would be left with, I’m afraid, is a version of Christian religion that very few of us would find appealing or get very excited about. It would be a very dry, very rigid form of Christian orthodoxy that may have all the right i’s dotted and all the right t’s crossed but is incapable of giving life because it doesn’t scratch where anybody actually itches. It looks great on paper but it doesn’t change any lives. Why? Because it doesn’t have the wind of the Holy Spirit to deliver its message to the right set of ears at the right moment. It doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit that can pierce through the defensive armor that people cover themselves with when they sense that God is getting too close. The Father wills to save, and the Son provides the means of salvation, but without the Holy Spirit to deliver the package, nobody gets saved. Instead, everybody just gets bored. There’s nothing less exciting or interesting than the practice of Christianity without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

So, knowing God as trinity of persons in unity of being is, I hope we can see from these brief reflections, critical to our experience of who God is and what God is up to and how God intends to accomplish his purposes. Yet, even though the theology of the Trinity informs our thinking about God, it is never an end in itself. Thinking correctly about God is important, but it doesn’t get us where we need to go. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity is always configured toward the worship of the Trinity. Our celebration of Trinity Sunday is not about the doctrine of the Trinity—it’s about the Trinity. That may seem like a small distinction, but it’s not. It’s huge. Both Isaiah’s vision of heaven and John’s vision of heaven in Revelation are all about worship, both have the heavenly hosts singing “Holy, holy, holy…”. So there’s every reason under heaven for those same words to be crossing our lips as they will in a few minutes, even as we are here and now gathered as a microcosm of the worship of the heavenly hosts assembled around the throne of God the Father, with God the Son standing as a sacrificial lamb who has tasted and conquered death, and God the Holy Spirit energizing the hearts and lips of the faithful to offer hymns of unceasing praise. Only the worship of the triune God keeps us faithful, in a balanced way, to the truth of the triune God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Saturday (Evelyn Underhill)

Indulged in a leisurely morning. Interacted with a handful of ministry-related emails, but otherwise just puttered around the apartment attending to domestic chores. It was too rainy to walk. Mid-afternoon, we packed up and headed down I-57 to Mt Vernon, arriving around 9pm. The weather is much nicer in downstate Illinois.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday (St Basil)

  • Devotions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, internet cruising, rough email processing, and task planning on the back patio, not because the weather was particularly nice (it was actually quite chilly), but because I wanted to be there right when the recycling haulers arrived so I could immediately retrieve the cans into the garage and prevent unknown malefactors from depositing their own recycling into *our* cans. Yes, that is a thing, and, yes, I have become "that guy." My mission, by the way, was accomplished. #urbanlife
  • Had a substantive phone conversation with one of our clerics over an administrative-pastoral issue.
  • Responded to a couple of late-arriving emails.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Mt Vernon).
  • Responded by email to a request for a phone appointment with one of our canonically-resident military chaplains.
  • Lunch slightly on the early side from the Chinese takeout place around the corner.
  • Stepped out for a 1:00pm appointment with my psychotherapist.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon before Evening Prayer working on my in-progress pastoral teaching on sexuality and marriage.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thursday

  • Usual weekday AM routine,
  • Took care of some preliminary details pertaining to a planned trip to Cuba next spring with my Class of 2011 bishop colleagues.
  • Read and responded to more Ember Day letters. I'm pretty impressed with our present group of postulants and candidates.
  • Stepped out for a while to get a haircut,
  • Lunch of leftovers, on the late side.
  • Spent the afternoon doing master sermon planning for the fall (Propers 17-29). This is laborious and time-consuming (including reviewing a bunch of old material to determine whether it can be successfully freshened; this time around, the answer was No about 60% of the time, which means I'll have to develop new material for those occasions).
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • More work via email on the Corpus Christi liturgy.
  • Read and responded to a stack of Ember Day letters from postulants and candidates for Holy Orders (as is their canonical obligation to write them).
  • Took and initial prayerful-close-reading pass at the readings for Proper 16, in preparation for preaching on them on the third weekend of August at St Mary's, Robinson.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended to an administrative issue with respect to one of our parishes that shares its facilities with a congregation of another brand name.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft Mission Statement and 2019 goals for the team that is presently doing the work of the diocesan archivist. We have some rather amazing challenges and opportunities in our archives.
  • Attended by email to some administrative concerns over a human resources issues.
  • Continued a dialogue volley over the ongoing "mystagogy" project.
  • Attended to a brief bit of business pertaining to my board membership in the Society of King Charles the Martyr.
  • Took the last hour before Evening Prayer to make another increment of progress is bringing order to my chaotic basement. Rain prevented taking a walk today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

St Barnabas

Fairly efficient post-day off back-in-the-saddle day: Lots of administrative details by email and some deep-in-the-weeds liturgy planning for the celebration of Corpus Christi at the cathedral on the 20th. Sadly, too much of the afternoon was frustratingly consumed by waiting to get my wrist X-rayed (toward the end of treating an 18-month old injury). Somehow I got lost in the bureaucratic system and, had I not nagged somebody behind a desk, I might still be waiting there.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost

Having driven to O'Fallon yesterday, it was just a short drive from the Hilton Garden to St Michael's for their regular 0930 celebration of the Eucharist. Presided, preached,  confirmed three adults, and partook of a delicious post-liturgical repast in the parish hall. Grateful for the pastoral leadership of Fr Ian Wetmore in that place. We drove straight home to Chicago afterward, arriving at 4:30pm.

Homily for Pentecost

St Michael’s, O’Fallon--Romans 8:14–17


If you’re on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you probably know what a “meme” is. In social media, a meme is a graphic image with a pithy saying or quotation overlaid on top of it. I would be willing to bet that, if we were to open the Facebook timeline of anybody in this church today, we wouldn’t have to scroll more than about ten minutes before finding a meme that uses the expression “child of God” or “children of God.” And I can virtually guarantee you that the assumption of that meme is that the label “child of God” applies to every single human being, because … of course all people are children of God, right? I mean, we just intuitively know that, don’t we? Everyone is a child of God … especially actual children. To say otherwise would feel almost … well, heretical … wouldn’t it?

Well, I’m standing before you today ready to be a heretic, ready to challenge that assumption. Not every person is a child of God. I say this with some confidence, however, because I believe I have a formidable ally in one no less eminent that St Paul the Apostle. Now, I’m probably being more provocative than I need to be, so stay with me, and we’ll get this straightened out. Just put the question on the shelf for a few minutes, and we’ll come back to it.

It should come as no particular news flash that most people in our society—which is to say, most people in the developed world, people who are at least “relatively affluent” if not “filthy rich” in comparison to most of this planet’s population—most people in our society suffer from chronic spiritual anxiety. This is my anecdotal experience, at any rate, not any kind of scientific poll. Most of us carry around some mixture of uncertainty and/or doubt and/or guilt and/or anger.

Even many professed Christians get caught up in this net, which is both interesting and troubling. Supposedly, faith should serve as a sort of hedge against spiritual anxiety. Faith should ground us in our sense of who we are in relation to who God is and make us feel secure when it comes to questions of meaning and purpose in life. Yet, many who consider themselves Christians don’t feel like they have such grounding and security. Why is that? Why is it that some people have faith that doesn’t seem to “work”? When a pediatrician sees a baby who is not gaining weight appropriately, not growing in the expected ways, the phrase “failure to thrive” is sometimes used. In my pastoral experience, I would diagnose many Christians whom I’ve met with “failure to thrive” spiritually.

I can’t stand here and tell you that I have the complete and unassailable answer to why some Christians fail to thrive. But I do have a theory, and I’m actually pretty confident about it. It’s a matter of not availing ourselves of the resources that are right in front of us. Too often, we are lax in our embrace of the Paschal Mystery, and in making ourselves available to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We have a dim awareness of the identity we were given when we were baptized, that we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” We are blasé about our participation in the Holy Eucharist. We don’t attend to the scriptures that are read in the liturgy. We don’t notice the words of the hymns we sing, or, worse yet, don’t even sing them. In behaving this way, we are like a desperately hungry baby who simply refuses to eat. We effectively alienate ourselves from the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cut ourselves off from the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Fortunately, there’s another way to live. What are the habits of those Christians who seem to thrive spiritually, who have a robust faith, who, despite the challenges and roadblocks and trials that life sends their way, are able to remain centered and purposeful and … yes … even joyful in the midst of it all. These are Christians who regularly expose themselves to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. They embrace and configure their lives to the mystery that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” They don’t just coast spiritually, but are disciplined in their spiritual practice, with good habits of spiritual self-care. They are obedient disciples of Jesus, having come to the realization that they no longer belong to themselves, but have been bought with a price, the price of Christ’s blood. They are consumed with a passion for revealing and advancing the Kingdom of God. They suffer as much as, or often more than, other Christians, but their suffering is not meaningless; rather, it is redemptive, because their suffering is offered to and united with the suffering of the crucified Christ.

Such Christians are spiritually enlivened. St Paul, in writing to the Romans, says that the Holy Spirit “bears witness with our spirits that we are”—now, wait for it, because I told you I’d circle back—“that we are children of God.”  In effect, Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit “sings a duet” with our own spirits. Think of Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole “recording” a duet together even when one of them was no longer physically present in this world—or Sonny and Cher, or Donny and Marie or … I’m sure somebody here can think of an example a little more contemporary than these!

When we are enlivened by the good habits of spiritual practice that are available to us, the Holy Spirit sings a duet with our spirit, bearing witness that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit persuades us of our status as children of God, which is not our default state. God loves every woman, man, and child who has ever lived, infinitely and passionately. Every human life is precious in God’s sight. I don’t want you to think I’m saying otherwise. But that doesn’t make all people “children of God.” To be a child of God is a status conferred in the waters of baptism and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Now, to be uber-correct, the word Paul uses is “sons”—the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits, persuading us that we are sons of God. Now, this isn’t casual sexism on Paul’s part. Rather, it’s a recognition that, in the ancient Roman world where Paul lived, only sons were legally allowed to inherit property. So what Paul is saying the Holy Spirit persuades us of is that all of us who are baptized into Christ, male or female, have a status in relation to God equivalent to that of a son in the Roman world. “And,” he goes on, “if sons, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

So … why choose to fail to thrive spiritually? It’s completely unnecessary. We have more resources for spiritual vitality right in front of us than we can even imagine. We have the riches of the Paschal Mystery at our fingertips. We need only partake. We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, and the singing Holy Spirit tells us so. We need only rest in that identity.

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Saturday

Did some followup on Brenda's medical needs in the morning, and otherwise attended to domestic concerns. Then, around 2:3opm, we loaded up the YFNBmobile and headed south to O'Fallon, with a dinner stop in Champaign, arriving at 8:30. Ready for tomorrow's visitation to St Michael's.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday

With my weekend now suddenly reconfigured, the main event of the day was to get Brenda some medical attention. That took all of the morning and most of the afternoon. Long story short: Another low-sodium episode. It's a mystery what causes it, because she literally eats salt by the spoonful. So there's still a lot of following up to do. As for any actual productivity on my part, I did manage to do the finish work on my Pentecost homily (day after tomorrow at St Michael's, O'Fallon, and process a handful of emails. Not the way I would have chosen to spend the day, but we have to take these things as they come. God is good.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Thursday

I packed and hit the road southbound at 0930--earlier than usual because I had made a 2:30pm commitment to an ecumenical guest appearance to bring greetings to the Annual Assembly of the Central and Southern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was a joy to do so, as I enjoy a warm collegial friendship with Bishop John Roth. I then had an interview with a candidate for the Communications Coordinator position, which resulted in a mutual Yes on the matter, so we have made a hire. Stay tuned! We then sat with Sue for a while to take care of some of the administrative details. 

Through the day, however, a situation was brewing with Brenda's health than resulted in several texts and phone calls with our children, and then a phone conversation with our family doctor, and finally a decision on my part to head back to Chicago, so I can take her in for some tests in the morning. As it happens, I had nothing on my calendar for tomorrow or Saturday anyway, so the disruption is minimal. I'm still planning on making my scheduled Sunday visitation to St Michael's, O'Fallon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday (St Boniface)

The day began normally, but was soon hijacked by a domestic plumbing emergency (leaky kitchen faucet) the necessitated a trip to Home Depot and the creation of an account with Task Rabbit. When back and able to get my day organized, I returned a phone call from a colleague bishop, answered an email question from a person in the ordination process, and worked on my ongoing mystagogy project--an effort to embed a certain mindset and approach to catechesis and formation into the culture of the diocese. Lunched on leftovers. Synergized the need to get a walk in with the need to run a health-related shopping errand. Got back and devoted attention to my Trinity Sunday homily (to be delivered at Trinity, Mt Vernon), emerging with a draft that I can refine next week. By then it was time to greet and be available to the "task rabbit" (a nice guy names Brian)  who successfully installed a new kitchen faucet. Evening Prayer with Brenda. Grilled tri-tip on the patio with the extended family.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday

The big rocks on the days schedule were four pre-existing healthcare appointments: three for me (physical therapy [the course of treatment now concluded], occupational therapy [for an old wrist injury], and my primary doctor) and one for Brenda (cardiology followup). Around those commitments, I managed to do significant reconstructive surgery on an old homily for Proper 8 (June 30 at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel), interact via several text messages with one of our clerics, and trade emails, with substantive comments, with the rectors of two parishes with June visitations.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Up and out of my Effingham hotel room right at 0700, headed for an eventual arrival in Albion in time for the regular 0900 celebration of the Eucharist at St John's, which still takes place in the historic church building constructed in 1842,, only 24 years after Illinois statehood. The community is ably cared for by Fr Bill Howard. After visiting with folks following the liturgy, I was on the road northbound at 1045 and arrived home in Chicago at 4pm.

Sermon for Easter VII

St Johns, Albion--John 17:20-26

Imagine, if you will, a United States Army as it might exist in the wishful fantasy of an infantry soldier. In this army, enlistees would be permitted to “shop” for a convenient basic training location, and for a compatible drill sergeant. They would then be allowed to pick which unit they wanted to serve in. If things don’t work out the way they expect, if there is bad personal chemistry with their commanding officer, they can look around for more suitable arrangements, and approve their own transfer. There is a broad consensus that this is the Army, and it’s supposed to be about defending our national interests, but beyond such generalities, there is little concrete agreement about what the mission and objective of the army is. Orders are given—sometimes they’re obeyed and sometimes not, depending on the disposition of the one receiving them.

While this might be a wonderful daydream in the mind of Beetle Bailey peeling a mountain of potatoes, subject to the whimsical wrath of his sergeant, it’s not any kind of army you or I would want defending us. As a fighting force, it would be completely undisciplined, lacking integrity, and totally ineffective. It would not be one army, but a collection of essentially self-absorbed individuals and informal coalitions … with guns! Potential attackers would hold it in contempt, and rather than being deterred from attacking our country, they would be encouraged to do so.

Throughout scripture, the people of God are many times portrayed as an army. In the Old Testament, this was often true in a literal sense. In the New Testament, it’s only a metaphor, but a very significant metaphor. Just like an army, the Church’s credibility in the eyes of the world depends on internal discipline, a coherent sense of mission, and an effectiveness that comes only from unity of purpose.

In the creeds, we profess our belief in ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. In our present circumstances, however, it takes a tremendous amount of imagination to make that statement. In the New Testament itself, we read of division in the church, of jealousy and rivalry and competing ministries. In the fourth century, more than a few cities had two bishops, neither one recognizing the other. In the eleventh century, there was the Great Schism that divided east from west. Even today, the Pope can’t visit Greece without arousing all kinds of hurt feelings from that schism of nearly a thousand years ago. In the sixteenth century, the western half of the church was dashed on the rocks of the Protestant Reformation, starting a chain reaction of division that is still growing in size and intensity. Today, the number of distinct Christian denominations numbers in—are you ready for this?—distinct Christian denominations number in the hundreds of thousands.

It is in such an environment, such a context, that we encounter the long and poignant prayer offered by Jesus on the eve of his death, and recorded for us in St John’s gospel. It is known as the “High Priestly” prayer, because, in it, Jesus intercedes with his Father as a priest on behalf of us, his people. And the one thing he prays for, above all else, is the unity of the church. But he has a very specific purpose in this request: “I do not pray for these only...” —in other words, it’s not just for the sake of the church’s members that he prays for the church— “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus is quite clear here—is he not?—that the Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are not yet part of the Church. Outreach in evangelism and service are not ancillary to the church’s mission; they are the church’s mission. Most of us know this intellectually, but it’s a challenge to put into practice. When considering a change in parish program, clergy and lay leaders are more apt to ask, “What will the members think?”, rather than “What will most effectively advance our mission?” For clergy in particular, it takes some degree of courage to begin to treat parishioners as co-laborers, members of the same team, with a common objective, and a disciplined attitude in pursuit of that objective. Too often, it is an irresistible temptation to revert to a mental model in which parishioners are clients in need of professional services, as passengers on a cruise ship, rather than as crew members. (I should add that what I’m talking about is probably less likely in a community like St John’s than it is in a larger parish.) Even more damaging is the model which we so easily import from our secular experience, in which the Church is seen as a voluntary association that we can join and unjoin—or go “inactive”— as we see fit, much like a fraternity or sorority or service club or lodge or sports program. Only the church generally makes fewer demands than such organizations!

What Jesus is telling us, however, through his high-priestly prayer, is that God’s loving disposition toward mankind is clearly revealed to the precise extent that the Church is One—united as a highly-disciplined and well-trained army in the pursuit of an unambiguous objective. To the extent—and we have to admit, for the time being, it’s only a partial extent—to the extent that the Church manifests concrete, visible unity, our witness to the world has integrity and power. In Eucharistic Prayer ‘D’, which gets used pretty rarely in my experience, which is a shame—in Eucharistic Prayer D we ask God, on behalf of His holy catholic Church, to “reveal its unity.”

Reveal its unity.

When Pope John Paul did visit Greece about 30 years ago, his purpose was not to stir up resentment and competitiveness between churches, but because he hoped that, as an eastern European himself, he might be instrumental in the healing of the thousand year breach between east and west, that the Church may yet, in his words, “breathe with both her lungs.” What a wonderful image that is, not only for the east-west division, but for all our divisions—between churches, within churches, even within dioceses and parishes. The unity we seek has many levels—it must begin with simple charity and goodwill and mutual respect. But we must not be content with that level of unity. We want it to proceed to unity around the essentials of the gospel, the fundamental beliefs revealed in scripture and expressed in the creeds.

But we must not be content with even that level of unity. We want it to proceed to the level of sacramental fellowship, in which we fully recognize one another’s members and ministers and gather around the same table to share fully in the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is itself the very sign of unity. That would indeed be a level of unity that surpasses any of our presently realistic hopes for our own lifetime. But even if that level were to be achieved, we would not want to rest on our laurels. We would want to press on to full visible, institutional, and organizational unity, so that there is but one Church of Jesus Christ in the world, speaking with one voice, that the world may know God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

Such unity will require humility and courage of the sort that can only be a gift of divine grace. It will require the attitude expressed so eloquently by the Anglican bishops gathered in the Lambeth Conference of 1888, where they said that, once unity in matters of substance has been achieved, matters of style must not be allowed to keep us apart, and that toward such an end, “this church stands ready to forego all preferences of her own.” For our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends, this will require a hard look at their claims of exclusivity, each believing itself to be “the one true church.” For Lutherans and other mainline Protestants, it will mean accepting the ministry of bishops in the historic apostolic succession, and there have been significant steps in that direction by Lutherans. For evangelical Protestants, it will mean a lot more structure and accountability than they might presently be comfortable with. And for us, as Anglicans, the challenge is to make peace once again with the idea of a universal earthly leader of the Church, and it makes as much sense as any other idea for this leader to be the Bishop of Rome, in whatever way the role of the Pope might need to be reconfigured to make that work. We all have room to give, room to grow.

When, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are able to indeed lay aside “all preferences of [our] own,” the effectiveness of the Church’s ministry and mission will explode. We will see the continuing evangelization of Africa and Asia. We will see the re-evangelization of Europe and North America. Jesus’s high-priestly prayer will be answered, and God will be glorified.

Pray, brothers and sisters, pray. Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Saturday (St Justin Martyr)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Breakfast at Charlie Parker's.
  • Began working on notes to clergy with "nodal events" in June.
  • Met with the head of the Search Committee from St Andrew's, Carbondale to discuss the territory ahead during their pastoral transition.
  • Grabbed a lunch of fried fish from Carter's Fish Market on South Grand Avenue East and brought it back to the office to eat while I watched a show on Netflix.
  • Got back to writing the notes to clergy. It was quite a stack: on the light side with birthdays, but a TON of June ordination anniversaries (five on the 29th alone).
  • Dealt by email with a small administrative issue.
  • Straightened up my desk and credenza.
  • Responded to an application for the Communicator position.
  • Did a bit of routine personal organization.
  • Took a brisk long walk up Second Street to North Grand Avenue, over the Sixth, and back down.
  • Packed up and headed to Effingham for the night. Dinner at Friday's.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Visitation of the BVM

Up and out of the Chicago abode at the unrighteous hour of 0545am. The intent was to avoid morning commute traffic, and I largely succeeded. This put me in my Springfield office by 0915. I settled in, processed accumulated hard-copy items on my desk, responded to a couple of emails, and began my due diligence research on a request from a diocese for consent to the consecration of their bishop-elect. Broke off from this at 1045 to welcome my 1100 appointment, who arrived early. This was a new postulant, in to discuss his theological formation process toward ordination. It was a productive 75-minute conversation. Lunch from Chick-Fil-A, followed by a shoe-shopping errand at Scheel's (successful) and quick check-in over a small matter at the Mazda service department (also successful). Back at the office, did finish work on this Sunday's homily (St John's, Albion), took a necessary 25-minute nap to compensate for my early start to the day, spent a devotional "holy hour" in the cathedral, and read the evening office. Long walk around the downtown area, followed by dinner at Applebee's.

Ascension

The principal productive accomplishment of the day was some major progress on my Pastoral Teaching on Sexuality and Marriage writing project. It's coming along nicely. Also made encouraging progress toward filling the Communications Coordinator vacancy. In the evening, Brenda and I kept the feast of the Ascension at ... where better ... the Church of the Ascension in Chicago.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rogation Wednesday

Usual routine at both ends of the day. Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese on a pastoral matter. Registered for the Province V bishops' meeting next month. Responded to an email message from the Bishop of Tabora. Ran a health-related shopping errand. But the big accomplishment was taking the developed outline of my Pentecost homily (St Michael's, O'Fallon) and turning it into a rough draft text.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tuesday (Christ the High Priest)

The two "big rocks" on my calendar were a doctor's appointment for Brenda and a physical therapy appointment for myself. Around those commitments, I caught up on a significant stack of email responses.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter

This was one of those rare Sundays when I didn't have a parish visitation scheduled, so I remained in Chicago and accepted an invitation to preach at the 0900 and 1100 liturgies at the Church of the Ascension here (and celebrate at the latter as well). It'a a complete joy to minister in word and sacrament under any circumstances, but particularly in a place where I don't actually have any responsibility! I arrived home properly tired, scrounged up some lunch from leftovers, indulged in a Netflix movie, and took a very long walk with Brenda.

Sermon for Easter VI (Rogation)


Ascension, Chicago  Revelation 21:22–22:5, Psalm 67
                                                                                                
                                                                                          
 “Oh, who can make a flower? I know I can’t, can you?” That’s the opening line of a Sunday School song which, for some inexplicable reason, still takes up space in my brain sixty-some odd years later.

“Oh, who can make a flower? I know I can’t, can you?” It’s an expression of childlike simplicity, to be sure, but also reveals a profound truth. It gives voice to the very first article of the Christian creeds: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth . . . of all that is, seen and unseen.” Creation is the first activity we attribute to God because, without it, we ourselves would not be. It is through the created order that our lives are made possible, and conceived, and formed and nourished and sustained. It is through Creation that God meets our needs—in the words of Psalm 67: “The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing.”

The created world around us not only meets our physical needs, however. It also provides us with beauty and grandeur and joy. Nature is an essential component in any truly human existence. Indeed, the beauty of nature, the wonder of Creation, is so ubiquitous, so familiar, so ever-present, that it is easy for us to take it completely for granted.

This can happen in at least two ways: Some people develop a sort of functional atheism. They don’t actually arrive at a conscious opinion that there is no God, but they think and live as if that were the case. For such persons, the natural world just IS. Yes, it’s beautiful and provides for our needs, and isn’t that a lucky coincidence? But they are not awestruck by any of it. They are blind to the fingerprints that God has left all over Creation, and therefore feel no sense of moral accountability for any effect their behavior might have on the created order.

Then again, there are well-meaning believers who read passages of scripture like God’s instructions to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis to “subdue the earth” and “have dominion” over everything in it and take that as a carte blanche license to exploit every available resource as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The effect of either of these positions—either functional atheism or misguided application of scripture—either way, the effect on the environment can be disastrous. Do you remember the photographic images that came out of eastern Europe about thirty years ago, just after the fall of totalitarian communism? They were grim—scenes of air and water pollution such as you or I could never imagine. And at the risk of being controversial, from what I’ve seen, something along similar lines can be found even today in parts of China. I cannot help but think that the atheistic values of these regimes lie at the root of such gross environmental exploitation. Whenever we engage in activities that lead to, or abet, such a blight on the environment, whenever we choose short-term gain without thought of the long-term consequences, we are calling into question the integrity of our faith in “one God . . . the creator of heaven and earth.” Whenever we endorse environmental policies that result in economic benefit for the few at the expense of the larger welfare of society, we cast doubt on our belief in God.

The underlying issue, of course, is one of stewardship. Even that passage from Genesis that uses words like “subdue” and “dominion”—it isn’t about forcible exploitation; it’s about responsibility, accountability, trusteeship. You and I are trustees—stewards—of Creation. We will answer to God for the quality of our stewardship.

To gain spiritual insight into the mystery of our relationship with Creation, we do well to meditate on the moving and mystical vision in the Book of Revelation that is appointed for today’s liturgy. We read about a river flowing out from the throne of God and running down the middle of the heavenly Jerusalem. And “on either side of the river, the tree of life” — let’s not fail to notice a connection to a tree in the Garden of Eden by the same name—the tree of life “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit in each month” — in other words, there is no “off season” for this tree, it is perpetually producing fruit, perpetually feeding people, perpetually meeting people’s needs;  “...and the leaves of the tree were for the healing...” —healing is usually not a sudden event, but a natural, gradual, organic process that restores health and wholeness in every dimension of our lives: material, emotional, social, and spiritual— “... the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” The intended recipients of the Good News of life and healing and redemption in Christ, the proper objects of the church’s mission, consist, quite simply, of all people in all places at all times. The healing love of God, revealed in Jesus and ministered by the church, is for everyone.

When we encounter this vision of healing and life-sustaining trees planted on the banks of a river of living water flowing from the very heart of God, we can no longer see Creation, we can no longer see the natural order, as a mere happy coincidence, or as something to exploit for our selfish ends. Rather, it takes on a sacramental character. It is infused to overflowing with significance. As God provides for our material needs through the natural order, we are reminded of His ultimate provision for our deepest needs in Eternity.

The next three days—Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day —are known by the Church as Rogation Days. This comes from the Latin verb rogare, which means to petition, to make a request. In its medieval origins, the idea was that since Jesus is about to return to Heaven, let’s load him up with messages for his Father, much as a parent might pin a note to a teacher on the jacket of a kindergartner. As Christian piety evolved, these “rogations” took on a specific focus—namely, for the sake of spring planting, that the weather would be seasonable, that insect pests and disease would stay away, and that the eventual crop yield would be bountiful. More recently, the emphasis on Rogation Sunday, as today is called, broadened to include both supplication and thanksgiving for all of Creation and its significance. I guess you could say that today is a peculiarly Christian version of Earth Day.

Yet, I believe today’s liturgy calls us to take our celebration of Rogation Sunday even one step further, to the end that we recognize in Creation not only God’s abundant provision for our physical welfare, but see in it as well an invitation to share God’s concern for salvation and wholeness in all of its aspects—concern that those who are alienated and lonely find peace and community, concern that those who are shackled by addiction and despair find freedom and hope, concern that those divided by suspicion and hostility find trust and reconciliation, concern—very simply— “for the healing of the nations.”

As we contemplate the mystical image of the consummation of all things that St John holds up for us in his revelation, our field of vision becomes like God’s—universal in scope, radically inclusive of all people everywhere.  Without becoming pantheists—that is, without losing the essential distinction between God and God’s creation—our relationship with Creation nonetheless takes on a deeply spiritual dimension. It is not merely for our “enjoyment,” but it mediates God’s presence and care and calls us to stewardship.

Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday (Jackson Kemper)

  • Usual weekday telecommuting early AM routine.
  • Traded emails with the rector of Ascension, Chicago, where I will be making another guest appearance on Sunday.
  • Hoofed down to the Swedish Covenant Hospital complex (about four blocks) for an occupational therapy appointment to do with my wrist injury from January of *last* year.
  • Took care of a timely bit of personal financial business.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Hoofed it once again, this time in a different direction, for a 1pm psychotherapy appointment.
  • Spoke by Skype with a candidate for the Communications Coordinator vacancy.
  • Stepped upstairs for a short family celebration of Hattie's *actual* birthday (her ceremonial birthday having been observed last Sunday).
  • Dealt via email with a pastoral/liturgical issue raised by one of our parish clergy.
  • Responded to a financial/administrative inquiry from the Administrator.
  • Reviewed and revised the Communications Coordinator job description.
  • Reviewed some materials pertaining to the mission strategy development process.
  • Evening Prayer alone in our living room.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thursday

Another blessedly un-rushed morning. Breakfast at the Hilton Garden. Then, after assembling our belongings, we headed to the St John's Northwestern Military Academy chapel for the Nashotah House commencement ceremonies and Eucharist. It was, as always, a splendid occasion. It was a special joy to watch Springfield seminarians, the Deacons Shane Spellmeyer and Jonathan Totty receive their degrees. Back on campus, there was the usual luncheon under the tent, after which Brenda and I hit the road in a southerly direction in time to enjoy some grilled meats and vegetables with our daughter and son and daughter-in-law and her parents, visiting from Tennessee, in our backyard on a lovely evening.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wednesday

Had breakfast with Brenda at the Hilton Garden, then returned to our room to spend about an hour-and-a-half processing email, both late-arriving and stuff that's been waiting a day or two. Then we returned to the Nashotah campus and did some walking around on a day that started out foreboding but was getting more beautiful my the minute. This included some time spent in the cemetery, which we expect our mortal remains will one day inhabit. When I first got to know this piece of real estate in the 80s, it was kind of abstract. Now it's populated by several whom I actually have known, so it's more concrete and poignant. We also sat in on an Alumni Day lecture by Dr Garwood Anderson, who, before he became President/Provost, was a New Testament professor. He talked about preaching during Ordinary Time, Year C. We moved on to the refectory for the Alumni Day luncheon, which honored both alumni and tomorrow's graduates. It was a joy to share the meal with the three other members of the Class of 1989 who showed up for our 30th reunion. Brenda and I then headed back to the hotel for a bit of downtime; it turned out I really needed a nap. We got back to campus in time to visit with a few folks for a bit before heading over to St Mary's Chapel for Evening Prayer and the Alumni Day Solemn Mass. This included the dedication of the new organ, and was followed by a mini-recital. Back to refectory then for hospitality hour and dinner, another gala event that included an award ceremony. It's been good to connect with a lot of people, but my introversion was pretty well taxed.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tuesday (St Alcuin)

On the road northbound with Brenda at 0830. With a stop for breakfast along the way, we arrived at Nashotah House just in time for the first scheduled event for members of the corporation. (While I am no longer a member of the Board of Directors, the ones who do all the governance heavy lifting, I remain a member of the corporation, the legal "owner" of Nashotah House, and the body to which the Directors are accountable.) These activities continued throughout the day, with a break for evensong, concluding with dinner in the evening. Tomorrow is devoted to alumni activities (this is my class's thirty year anniversary of graduation), and commencement is on Thursday (Springfield has two seminarians graduating). 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Up and out of my Decatur hotel room in time to show up at St John's and celebrate/preach at 0730. Took some downtime for breakfast between services, then back unto action at 1000, where we confirmed one adult. After a delightful Sunday brunch with Fr Swan, I headed north, and arrived at home just in time for granddaughter Hattie's birthday party (she's three). A good day.

Sermon for Easter V

St John’s, Decatur--John 13:31-35

Back in the early years of the second century—so, barely a hundred years after Jesus walked this earth—there was a young Roman official by the name of Pliny, who was governor of the province of Bithynia, which is in what we now know as northern Turkey.  Pliny had a vexing problem that was putting him in an ever more awkward position. There was an offbeat religious sect called Christianity that was beginning to enjoy substantial growth in his province.  Pliny viewed any such cohesive group as a threat to the social order, so his practice was to simply execute anyone who publicly admitted to being a Christian. But the sheer number of Christians that he was putting to death was starting to become embarrassingly high, which was itself a threat to the social order, so he decided to "punt,” and wrote a letter to Trajan, the emperor in Rome, asking for advice.

Pliny's letter to Trajan somehow managed to survive the centuries, and has come down to us as one of the most important documentary sources for our knowledge of early Christianity. It's particularly interesting because it gives us a glimpse of church life in that time through the eyes of an outsider, someone who was not himself a Christian or on his way toward becoming one. Pliny acknowledges that there is nothing in what Christians say and do that is inherently evil or criminal by Roman standards. In fact, their communal life seems to be characterized by love; they seem to be distinguished by their love for one another.

"By this shall the world know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another."

There are many ways of "hearing" that short and simple statement by Jesus, that "parting shot" to his disciples on the night before he was handed over to suffering and death.  One way to "hear" it is, "until I feel a heart-throbbing, pulse-quickening, stomach-churning affection for everyone whose life intersects with mine—family, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, strangers on the street—then I am falling short of this standard, I am failing to love in a way that distinguishes me as a Christian." This way of hearing supposes that the "love" to which Christians are called, the love which will let the world know that we are disciples of Jesus, is something that just wells up in our hearts to the point of overflowing, that it is something we feel deeply, an intense affection or attraction or familiarity.

Most of us in the room this morning are old enough, I suspect, to remember the TV sitcom from the 70s, Rhoda. The climax of one of the seasons was when Rhoda finally married Joe, the man she'd been dating for several long ... weeks. As was the custom in the free-wheeling 1970s, Joe and Rhoda spurned tradition and got married in an apartment, and wrote their own vows. I still remember being roused from my couch potato trance by a phrase that started out oh-so-familiar, but which, by changing one single letter, radically altered its traditional meaning. Instead of promising to love and honor and cherish one another "as long as we both shall live,” Rhoda and Joe made this promise "as long as we both shall love.” In other words, as long as I feel the way I feel now, as long as you make the earth move under my feet, as long as the emotion is still there.

Needless to say, Joe and Rhoda's marriage fell apart during the next TV season; with marriage vows like that, it was a foregone conclusion.

Another way of "hearing" Jesus's command for us to love one another is this: "Until we've fed the last hungry stomach, until we've sheltered the last homeless person, until we've freed the last prisoner, until the last vestige of racism is obliterated, until we've nursed back to health the last forgotten human being in the darkest slum in the black hole of Calcutta, then our Christian outreach, our Christian love, is inadequate; the love by which the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus is not yet visible enough."  This way of hearing understands the command that we love one another to be absolutely universal, with no priorities, conditions, qualifications, or any defining context.

I read about a psychological study some time ago that indicated that the average human being is capable of sustaining only about one hundred relationships of any meaningful substance or significance. A hundred may sound like a large number, but if we actually think about it, one hundred is a quota that can be filled very quickly. For most of us, this limitation on our capacity for love stops well short of the last forgotten human being in the black hole of Calcutta.  So whether we "hear" our Lord's command that we love one another in terms of intense emotional feeling, or in terms of unrestricted universality, or—as is very likely the case—in terms of both these characteristics, what we end up with is a mess of confused or misplaced expectations and a general sense of guilty failure.

Guilt and failure are not enjoyable experiences, so our eyes cast about for relief, for deliverance, for redemption. The good news today, the "gospel of the Lord" today, is that Jesus wants to set us free from this unnecessary sense of guilt and failure.

There is yet another way of hearing the command to love one another. The kind of love that is distinctively Christian, the kind of love that Jesus says is the identifying trademark of those who are his disciples, the kind of love that the Roman governor Pliny recognized in the Christian community in Bithynia—this kind of love is not a product of our emotions but is an act of the will. Christian love is not a feeling. Christian love is a decision.

Let that sink in. It's important.

But while you're letting it sink in, please don't misunderstand me. I am not against "warm fuzzies" and being nice and feeling good about each other in the family of the church. I need these and want these as much as anyone. But warm feelings and kind conversations do not constitute Christian love! You and I are not under any obligation to "like" all our fellow Christians. We are not under orders to have deep feelings of affection for everyone. If you do have these feelings, then God bless you, I'm happy for you. But if you don't, then don't sweat it, you're OK! The love that Jesus calls us to is not just a churchy version of Joe and Rhoda's wedding vows—"as long as we all have warm feelings        for one another." It is at the same time less burdensome and more profound than that.

Does this come as a relief to anyone?

The love that Jesus calls us to have for one another is the same sort of love that God has for us—love that is not primarily of the heart or of the mind, but of the will. The New Testament Greek word for this sort of love is agapē. This is God-like love, love as a decision, demonstrated by action.

"By this shall the world know that you are my disciples, that you have agapē for one another."

Agapē-love is grounded in the very nature of God, which, according to the teaching of the church, is a community of one God in three persons. The love within the community of the Trinity is a model for love within the community of the church.
Jesus did not say that his disciples would be distinguished by their love for their enemies—although he did say, “love your enemies.” Jesus did not say that his disciples would be distinguished by their love for their neighbors in the world—although he did say, "love your neighbor.” No, Jesus said that his disciples would be distinguished by their love for one another!

Love for our enemies, love for our neighbors, love for the homeless and hungry and for the last forgotten human being in the black    hole of Calcutta—that's all wonderful, it's to be commended. But what empowers such universal love, what gives it a specifically Christian meaning and context, is the love of the church for her own, the love of the body for its own cells. The primary, foundational, obligation of love, the love which tells the world that we are disciples of Jesus, is our love for one another. To the extent that the life of the church is characterized by mutual acceptance, long-suffering patience, giving the benefit of the doubt, loyalty even when it's not returned, being present both to listen and to do when needs arise, supporting each other in prayer, bearing one another's burdens, sacrificial generosity with our time and energy and skill and material substance—to the extent that these are the marks of our common life, then will the world indeed know that we are the disciples of Jesus, that we are the church. This is what will give credibility to our witness. This is what will cause the world to sit up, take notice, and say, "See how those Christians love one another."  This is what what will cause the world will be beating a path to our door hungry and thirsty for what they see we possess, and which we'll be able to share without limit.

By this shall the world know that we are his disciples—by our love for one another.
Love not based on the fickle whims of human emotion, love that is not spread so thin as to lead only to grief, but love that is an act of the will, and which flows generously out of God's own love, the love of the Blessed Trinity.

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday

  • Up, out, and across the alley for Morning Prayer around 0745. Then down to Charlie Parker's for breakfast.
  • Back at the office, I started in on a long list of about 18 tasks, most of which were generated by emails over the last three days.
  • Broke away and 1000 to attend the Commission on Ministry meeting, which lasted until 12:30.
  • Off to run some personal errands: the Mazda dealer (service dept. closed), Chick-Fil-A, Barnes & Noble (birthday gift for Hattie), carwash, and HyVee (for a grocery item that is easier to find in Springfield than in Chicago).
  • Back to the office and back to the task list, which, with a break for Evening Prayer, I mostly completed by around 7:15. 
  • Packed up and headed east on I-72. Checked into my Hampton Inn room in Decatur/Forsyth. Walked to a nearby Cheddar's for a late supper.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday

  • Awoke in my office encampment, got myself put together, and slipped across the alley for devotions and Morning Prayer in the cathedral a little before 0800.
  • Made a breakfast run to Hardee's (chicken biscuit) and ate it on the way back to the office.
  • Took care of a couple of small administrative items with Sue.
  • Made necessary preparations to celebrate the Eucharist ahead of the Diocesan Council meeting (feria for Friday in the Fourth Week of Easter).
  • Presided and preached the Mass, and then presided over the Council meeting. It was a little longer and more involved than the May meeting usually is, but productive; candid, but not rancorous. 
  • Kept a 1230 lunch appointment with my ELCA opposite number, Bishop John Roth. I highly value our friendship, and wish we could get together more often.
  • Kept an appointment with a cleric of the diocese to discuss an ongoing pastoral/administrative matter of some substantive seriousness. It will continue to be ongoing for a while.
  • Spoke by phone for about 4o minutes with another cleric of the diocese about a completely different, though equally substantive, issue of pastoral practice. Though there are some serious questions attached to this one, it's mostly a good-news story.
  • As you might imagine, my introversion was severely taxed by this point. I wasn't really good for much, but still managed to process a large stack of emails and turn most of them into tasks. So my to-do list is now rather bloated.
  • Spent some devotional time in the cathedral, at the organ console, playing through the Easter section in the Hymnal 1940. There are some gems of texts and tunes that are, sadly, no longer part of our repertoire.
  • Prayed the evening office while I was there.
  • Noticed that I already had 5400 steps on my pedometer and planned a walking route calculated to top me off at the 10K goal, *and* deposit me at Bernie & Betty's for a Blue Moon and some beef ravioli. Yum.
  • And in the midst of the whole day, I was frequently texting and phoning either Brenda or one of our kids over what looked like it might be an emerging health-related "situation" for Brenda. It turned out not to be, with think.
  • Given my day, I indulged myself in the evening with a couple of TV shows on my laptop--one from Amazon Prime and one from Netflix.Whew.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thursday

Spent most of the daytime hours in session with the board of the Living Church Foundation (of which I am the secretary, so I had to multitask) at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, KY. TLC is doing some cutting-edge work, and I'm honored and excited to be part of overseeing that vital ministry. Hit the road westward around 3:30 EDT and arrived in my office encampment in Springfield around 9:15 CDT. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday

A day of travel, and a bit of camaraderie at the end. Left Chicago via YFNBmobile at 0930. Arrived at the Hilton in downtown Lexington, KY around 5:15 pm EDT. Got settled in, then hiked about 1.25 miles to have dinner with members of the board of directors of the Living Church Foundation (I am now the senior member of the board; fancy that). Tomorrow is our semi-annual meeting. (For the record, I also hiked that same 1.25 miles back to the Hilton. Came just shy of my 10K step goal for the day.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tuesday

  • First things first: Rose, lit coals in the Big Green Egg, prepared a brisket for smoking, and got it on the grill.
  • Tea, breakfast, processing email, cruising Facebook. This involved sharing an article of mine that appeared on the Covenant blog today.
  • Composed and sent an Ad Clerum, letter to the the clergy (actually, just Rectors, Vicars, and Priest-in-Charge, since it had to do with some practical liturgical matters).
  • Did some investigative planning for the drive I plan to take tomorrow to Lexington, KY for a meeting of the board of the the Living Church Foundation. Checked into my hotel room online.
  • Showered, dressed, and did my physical therapy exercises. My back is a bit of a mess since I tackled a household project on Sunday afternoon that required me to twist and contort myself inordinately. I hope the exercises (a more circumspect version of twisting and contorting) help.
  • Organized tasks for what's left of the day.
  • Went on a health-related shopping errand with/for Brenda. Caught some lunch while we were out.
  • Did the finish work (refine, edit, format, print, schedule for posting) on my homily for this Sunday (St John's, Decatur).
  • Took a jackhammer and some QuikCrete to a two-decades old sermon text for Easter VI in order to retrofit it for use this year at St John's, Albion.
  • Worked for about 45 minutes on the continuing project of imposing order on the chaos of my basement.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • Enjoyed the brisket I'd been tending off-and-on all day, along with the cornbread that came into being in about 30 minutes.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday

Once in a blue moon--due, no doubt, to my airtight task management system and Puritan work ethic--I complete all the ministry-related actions I have assigned myself for a week within that week. After an email to the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities this morning, that's the position I found myself in. It will be eons before it happens again, and I elected to ride the wave and turn my attention to my *domestic* to-do list, which is still quite fulsome. We will return to regularly-scheduled programming quite soon, I'm sure. But since I don't have a visitation this weekend, I will take a hiatus from this corner of cyberspace until next Tuesday.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Thursday (St Gregory Nazianzus)

  • Usual early-AM weekday routine.
  • Engaged the homiletical message statement for Pentecost (St Michael's, O'Fallon) that I developed last week and built it out into detailed outline from which I can derive a full text when next I put my shoulder to the plow on this,.
  • Drafted and sent (via Sue) a letter appointing Fr Scott Hoogerhyde as Priest-in-Charge of St Bartholomew's, Granite City and chaplain to the daycare community at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Posted a link to "Thy Kingdom Come" resources on the diocesan Facebook page.
  • Reached out by email to a possible (fingers crossed) conductor for the 2020 clergy pre-Lenten retreat next February.
  • Studied some materials pertaining to business that will come before the corporation of Nashotah House at the annual meeting in a couple of weeks.
  • Drove with Brenda the two miles between our apartment and Foster Avenue beach on Lake Michigan, where we parked the car and walked south the Montrose Beach and then back north past Foster to Edgewater Beach, then back to the car. It was a beautiful day on the lakefront.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic oratory--solo, since Brenda was occupied by Hattie.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wednesday (Julian of Norwich)

  • Usual telecommuting weekday early AM routine.
  • Confirmed the commitment of a presenter for our November clergy conference.
  • Dealt immediately with an incoming email about an important pastoral-administrative development.
  • Got under the hood of a very old (around 25 years) homily text for Easter VI and rehabbed it for use this year as I make another guest appearance at Ascension, Chicago (no visitation that weekend).
  • Drafted and sent a substantive email to the Treasurer and the Chair of the Finance Committee regarding the financial parameters of how we proceed with regard to vacancy in communications.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Connected by phone with a consultant whom we have used in the past regarding the possibility of his working with another of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Devoted the bulk of the afternoon to my ongoing writing project--a pastoral teaching document on marriage and sexuality.
  • Worked an hour on one of my other ongoing projects--bringing some order to the chaos of my basement.
  • Took a brisk walk on a late afternoon that at least slightly resembled seasonable weather.
  • Evening Prayer fell through the cracks due to an impromptu visit from Hattie.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Tuesday

  • Customary early-AM weekday routine.
  • Attended by email to a fairly serious pastoral-administrative issue.
  • Moved the ball a couple of yards downfield toward securing a presenter for November's clergy conference.
  • Responded to a request from a colleague bishop for some insight on a canonical matter.
  • Responded substantively to one of our parish clergy on two distinct concerns.
  • Took steps to give more concrete shape to the diocese's participation in the "Thy Kingdom Come" prayer initiative between Ascension and Pentecost.
  • Broke off from that effort to keep a physical therapy appointment.
  • Took Brenda to a post-surgical wound check and device adjustment.
  • Lunched--very late--on leftovers.
  • Re-engaged and completed the "Thy Kingdom Come" task.
  • Attended in a fair amount of detail to a pastoral-administrative issue.
  • Finished the draft of the Covenant blog post I began last week. Sent it off to the editor.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner (while watching the Cubs game with one eye): Did significant surgery (it needed to be cut in length by a whole lot) on a sermon text for Easter V, in preparation for preaching on that occasion at St John's, Decatur.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter

Presided and preached at two lively liturgies in the Episcopal Parish of Alton: 018 at Trinity Chapel in "upper Alton" and 1030 at St Paul's Church in "lower Alton." Confirmed a family of three on the latter occasion. Visited with folks during the coffee hour, then loaded up and headed home, arriving at 5:45. I do love my job.

Sermon for Easter III

Alton Parish--John 21:1-14

One of my favorite movies is an Otto Preminger film from the 1960s called Hurry Sundown. The cast includes Jane Fonda and Michael Caine, and it’s a compelling story about tense race relations in rural Georgia just after World War II. However, my interest is narrower—one might even say “professional.” Many of the characters in the movie happen to be Episcopalian, and two of the scenes take place in the church, during worship. One of these is on a regular Sunday morning—at Morning Prayer, to be specific, as it used to be done across the Episcopal Church a half century ago. The other church scene is an ordination to the priesthood. The bishop is there, and, of course, the ordinand, the new priest in the community. During the administration of Holy Communion, the chalice is offered to one of the worshipers, a black woman. She drinks from it, and then it’s offered to the next person, a white man of some prominence in the community. But instead of drinking from it, he spits in it, disgusted that he should be expected to drink from a chalice that has just touched the lips of a … well, we won’t use the word he would have used.

When I saw this, I recoiled in horror that someone would be so filled with irrational hatred so as to profane the precious Blood of Christ in such a manner. As you might expect, the priest who held the chalice, and the bishop who saw the whole thing happen, were also horrified. That anyone would do such a thing is a dramatic testimony both to the inborn sinfulness and the social conditioning of the man who did it. Such sinfulness and such social conditioning lead not only to this sort of blatant racism, however, but also to several other less obviously evil but nonetheless sinful attitudes. This is where you and I join the cast of Hurry Sundown and kneel at the communion rail next to that black woman and that white man and participate in the tension and pain of that relationship. We are sinners too. We may not be guilty of overt racism, and we are probably socially conditioned in a much different manner than a southern white male who was born in the late 1800s. But we are all sinners, and we are all socially conditioned in some way to harbor unchristian assumptions about who should be welcomed at this altar, who should be expected to “fit in” with this church family. We all stand in need of continual repentance for attitudes that fall short of what God desires for us and from us.

We gather this way every Lord’s Day because we know we need Jesus to come to our rescue. And Jesus indeed faithfully comes to our rescue each time we call on him in this way—by feeding us with his Body and Blood, after first stimulating our appetite with his Word. As we look into the word of God today, we see this remarkable story from St John’s gospel that is situated during those first weeks following our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Peter and some of the other disciples are out fishing early one morning. In fact, they’d been fishing all night, but without any luck. Then they look back to the lakeshore, and, there on the beach is a shadowy figure whom they don’t quite recognize immediately. He tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and they do, and the nets are suddenly filled with more fish than they are able to haul back into the boat. In fact, St John gives us the interesting little detail that there were 153 fish eventually hauled ashore that day. What an odd thing to say! If it were simply a literal fact, there would be no need to report it. But what could the number 153 possibly symbolize? As you might imagine, there is no end to theoretical speculation, but the truth is, nobody knows for sure. I think it’s pretty safe to say, however, that—among other things, perhaps—this miraculous catch of fish symbolizes our mission to spread the gospel in the world, to ceaselessly announce the good news that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” and we can therefore face the future, whatever it brings, with hope and joy. The 153 fish symbolize both abundance and diversity—there were lots of fish, and lots of different kinds of fish. The Church’s mission is to proclaim the gospel to all people everywhere at all times, to invite all people everywhere at all times to come to Christ in faith and be reborn in baptism, to call all people everywhere at all times to join the crew of this vessel, and help haul the fish ashore.

That’s what “153 fish” means, and the notion gets a boost from a somewhat obscure phrase in the Prayer Book that is less well known now than it used to be, because of Prayer Book revision and because we no longer do Morning Prayer as the principal service on Sundays, but that phrase is “all sorts and conditions of men.” We used to pray, “Almighty God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that though wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations.” Notice how the word “all” is used without qualification—all sorts and conditons, all nations. Between the miraculous catch of 153 fish, and the unqualified use of “all” in the Prayer Book, we cannot escape the conclusion that there’s a place for everyone at the table in God’s kingdom. God does not desire that any should perish, but that all should be saved. God’s invitation is to all people everywhere at all times.

How is it, then, that Christian people are so often so blind to this basic gospel reality, and develop a mental picture—I grant you, often an unconscious mental picture, but a real one nonetheless—how is it that we develop a mental picture in which the church family is only for “people like us”—“people like us” ethnically, who look like us and talk like us; “people like us” economically—who shop where we shop and play where we play and go to school where we go to school; “people like us” culturally—who wear our kind of clothes and listen to our kind of music and watch the same movies and TV shows we watch? And please notice that I’m not singling out any particular ethnicity or economic income bracket or cultural group here. All are guilty of the “people like us” syndrome.

And the “people like us” syndrome, in turn, feeds and encourages our unchristian attitudes of smugness, superiority, and, yes, even racism—albeit in a very subtle and usually unintended form. This takes place in two directions. It certainly affects those who are on the outside looking in. I suspect there are people who merely drive by and look at [Trinity Chapel / St Paul’s Church] and feel excluded. Now, there’s not much we can do about that, but we need to always bear in mind that these are people whom God loves and for whom Christ died. There are those who would drive up to this location on a Sunday morning, and see the cars parked here, and feel that there’s not really a place here for their own car.

The “people like us” syndrome also affects those who are on the inside looking out. I’ll be the first to line up at the confessional. When I was in parish ministry, I practically salivated at the prospect of a middle class family with two or three kids of Sunday School age, where Mom and Dad are both college-educated professionals, and where everybody is physically and mentally healthy and emotionally secure and committed to Christ in the fellowship of the Church, who know their spiritual gifts and are eager to use them—I would have moved heaven and earth to make these folks feel welcome and to integrate them into the life of the parish. I was less enthusiastic about potential members whose profile departs in significant ways from this idealized description. And I need to tell you that I worked daily on repenting of that prejudice. I also suspect that I’m not the only one who is similarly prejudiced, and that even those who fall short of it are inclined to want to look past others who also fall short, and maintain this unattainable standard. We want our 153 fish, but we want to dictate to God how many of what kind and quality and size to put into the net! We are less eager to gratefully receive the fish God gives us, and be faithful in caring for them.

The attitude we are invited to have, the authentic gospel attitude, is symbolized by what happened after the disciples hauled the teeming net ashore. Jesus fixes breakfast on the beach, and invites his followers to share a meal with him. The action of taking bread and fish and breaking them in pieces and distributing the pieces is strongly reminiscent of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that all four gospel evangelists tell us about, and also, then, and more significantly, reminiscent of the Eucharist, where Jesus, through the representative ministry of the presiding priest or bishop, takes and blesses and breaks and gives the gifts of bread and wine for the spiritual nourishment and refreshment of God’s people. God invites “all sorts and conditions of men” to his heavenly banquet table, of which the Eucharist is a down payment and a foretaste. Can we do any less than welcome all 153 of the fish that God puts in our nets when we cast them according to our Lord’s instructions? It is when we fully comprehend this profound truth, the depth and breadth of God’s wasteful love for every person in every time in every place, it is when we can see “all sorts and conditions of men” through God’s clear eyes of unadulterated love, rather than our own sinful and socially conditioned eyes, that we are energized both to accept others into the household of God who are not “people like us,” and claim our own place of acceptance among those who may not be “people like us” in the family of the Church. Alleluia and Amen.