Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tuesday (St Teresa of Àvila)

  • Usual early morning stuff. Dealt with a couple of pastoral-administrative matters via a email exchanges.
  • Until mid-afternoon, with an interlude to take Brenda to a cardiology appointment, my attention was devoted to the finish work on three oral presentations in my near future: a sermon at the synod Eucharist on Friday, a "state-of-the-diocese" address to synod on Saturday, and a sermon at St Paul's, Carlinville on Sunday.
  • Took a substantial brisk walk.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Burned through a half dozen or so disparate ministry-related items, either through reading something or writing something, or both.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVIII Pentecost)

Out the door and on the road with Brenda right at 0700 ahead of a nice and relatively easy drive down I-57 to Rantoul. We arrived at St Christopher's about 0905, and joined their regular 0930 liturgy. There was an excellent turnout for that small congregation, with attendance of 26, a good percentage of whom were youngsters, including a couple of babies. It's always great to see signs of new life in a community like this one. After a good time of post-liturgical visiting, we were bank on the road northbound at 1130, and home around 3:00, with a lunch stop in Kankakee.

Sermon for Proper 23

St Christopher’s, Rantoul--Luke 17:11–19

We’re in the section of Luke’s gospel now, from sometime this past summer up until the beginning of Advent, that is sometimes referred to as the “travelogue.” Today’s reading is from Chapter 17, but back in Chapter 9 is the incident at Caesarea Philippi—which is way in the extreme north of the territory that Jesus walked around in with his followers—an incident that you’re probably familiar with, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter finally gives the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Shortly after that, the text tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” which is way in the south, and where he would, of course, suffer and die. So Jesus and his disciples are on a long and slow journey toward Jerusalem. Today his route takes him through an unnamed village. Just like any other traveler, Jesus and company are subject to the random events that travelers are subject to; you never know in advance the details of what’s going to happen on any given day of travel. As I drive through the diocese, I have no certain knowledge concerning the details of traffic or weather or construction or reckless drivers or … whatever.

In Jesus’ case, one of these random events is an encounter with ten lepers, who hailed him from a distance. Now leprosy is surely the single disease most frequently mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. In any given instance, it may or may not be what we now know as Hansen’s Disease, which is where flesh gets gradually eaten away, causing some awful disfigurements. It may, sometimes, be something more like eczema or a really bad skin rash; we just don’t know. What we do know is that, under Jewish law, anyone who had what might look like leprosy was commanded to self-exile, to stay away from normal society, and hang out only with other lepers. So these ten lepers were a sort of roving band of outcasts, on a rather more aimless journey than Jesus, and their random event on a day of travel was to run into Jesus, which they probably thought was a huge stroke of good luck because, by that time, Jesus had a widespread reputation as a healer

If we pause to reflect, we can recognize brief, or sometimes not so brief, encounters with God—with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit—in the midst of the randomness of our lives: from the beauty of a sunset to a hoped-for outcome from surgery to circumstances just lining up the right way—you know, those moments when we say, “It’s got to be a God thing”—particularly when there’s a clear answer to prayer. We approach God in prayer just as the ten lepers called out to Jesus, because we know he is able to deliver us from our afflictions, and to give us the strength to endure them with grace.

Jesus heals the lepers, as is his custom whenever anybody asks for healing, but, in this case, he does so rather indirectly. Instead of some dramatic gesture, like spitting on the ground or crying out with a loud voice, he simply assumes the outcome of his action without saying anything about it. He tells the lepers: Go and show yourself to the priest—that is, the legally authorized judge of whether they are, in fact, lepers. In the course of obeying Jesus, the lepers notice that they are healed.

There are two lessons to be drawn here, I think—one lesser and one greater. The lesser lesson is that bit about “in the course of obeying Jesus”: the lepers didn’t just stand there and get healed; they had to start moving, in obedience, before they experienced healing. Just as the proverbial “watched pot never boils,” it behooves us to attend to whether we are so fixated on our faithful petitions to God that we fail to see his presence and activity already among us and within us, and forget to act in his name. We can get so caught up in our awareness of our own needs that we miss seeing how God is already beginning to act to meet those needs.

The greater lesson is visible to us in the behavior of the one leper who, when he notices that his skin has cleared up, turns around and comes back to Jesus, falling at his feet in gratitude. I cannot help but imagine a subtle grin on Jesus’ face as he asks, in mock sarcasm, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Indeed, the one grateful leper was a Samaritan, an ethnic group that were considered “half-breeds” by the Jews, and were very much looked down-upon. Yet, this half-breed, this foreigner, was the one whose eyes were open to what he had experienced. He had been healed from leprosy, his defining condition, and his new defining condition was the result of his interaction with Jesus, the Anointed One of God.

When you and I were baptized, we had an encounter with that same Jesus, the Anointed One of God. We were brought to him as lepers, under the power of sin and death, marked as not worthy of existing in the community of the Kingdom of God. Then, we were given a new defining condition, that of being “in Christ,” sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. The appropriate response, just as it was for the leper, is thanksgiving. For this reason, we come together on the first day of every week, the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, to offer eucharist, to offer thanks, to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to the God who has healed and forgiven and redeemed us. It is not for no reason that the part of the Mass to which we will come in a few minutes is called the Great Thanksgiving.

One of the commentaries that I consulted in preparing this homily said that “Gratitude may be the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that ‘I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful.’” Indeed, gratitude is the fundamental disposition of a disciple. Gratitude begins when we truly see that God is present and active with us and in the world, just as the healed Samaritan did in the course of obeying Jesus and going to show himself to the priest. And gratitude is expressed as we begin to recognize how much God’s mercy has touched our lives, when we cultivate the habit of seeing and acting on the needs of those whose lives intersect with ours. We follow the example of the grateful Samaritan leper as we get out of ourselves and our own needs and open our eyes to Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday (St Philip the Deacon)

  • Usual early AM weekday routine, save that I elected to move my walk (which slipped through the cracks yesterday) to the front of the day, thus leveraging the mild temperatures, which will have dropped by some twenty degrees by late afternoon. All was brilliant until the last ten minutes of the walk, when the heavens opened and I arrived home drenched. Got cleaned up, then accompanied Brenda on her cat care chore.
  • Processed some late-arriving emails. Reviewed the PowerPoint slides the Communicator has prepared for my synod address next week.
  • Attended to another communications-related item.
  • Reached out to the priest-in-charge of one of the Eucharistic Communities I'm scheduled to visit soon just to confirm I'm still expected.
  • Had a fulsome conversation Bishop John Roth, my ELCA opposite number. I called him about a relatively small matter, but the conversation took off in several directions, which was quite enjoyable.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrestled with my notes on the readings for Proper 27 and wrung from them a homiletical message statement for my visitation to St Matthew's, Bloomington on November 10.
  • Attended to some travel details pertaining to my trip to Virginia Theology Seminary week after next for the meeting of the Living Church Foundation.
  • Took the barest sketch of a homily for the synod Eucharist next week all the way to a full rough draft.
  • Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday (St Paulinus of York)

  • Customary weekday routine.
  • First deep dive into liturgy planning for the clergy conference.
  • Processed a multi-faceted email from the Senior Warden of one of our communities in transition, which resulted in my taking a "supply" gig in the parish (the fifth I will have done in the last four months of the calendar year), which occasioned some remedial homiletical task planning.
  • Dashed off a note of condolence to one of our clergy who has suffered a death in the family.
  • Pushed an email message out to the diocesan clergy giving some details about the clergy conference. (They had received the registration materials from the Administrator yesterday.)
  • Picked up lunch from the Chinese place around the corner.
  • Worked on my sermon for Proper 24 (November 20 at St Paul's, Carlinville), bringing it from "developed outline" to "rough draft."
  • Continued an email dialogue with the presenter for next month's clergy conference.
  • Took care of some loose ends regarding lodging for Brenda and me either side of synod.
  • More email dialogue with a potential candidate for one of our vacant cures.
  • Spent the last hour before Evening Prayer on the never-ending project of basement organization. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday (Robert Grosseteste)

  • Customary weekday AM routine (augmented for a few days by the chore of going up to our daughter's apartment on the third floor and feeding her cat--formerly Brenda's--while she's vacationing in New York).
  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily (edit, refine, print, place output in car, schedule for posting on both blog iterations).
  • Continued email correspondence with a priest from outside the diocese who is interested in one of our openings.
  • Followed up on a handful of relatively small administrative tasks.
  • Turned my attention to (another relatively small) matter pertaining to next week's annual synod of the diocese.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Drafted a publicity blurb for next month's annual clergy conference. Vetted it via email with the presenter. Traded emails with the Administrator about the registration process.
  • Took another look at the synod Mass booklet and sent it off to the host parish for printing.
  • Burned through another handful of small administrative items--some requiring an outgoing email, some not.
  • Took a robust walk with Brenda on a quintessential October afternoon in the midwest--bright sunshine, cool enough to be clearly no longer summer, yet not at all unpleasantly cold. Our route took us through a lovely nearby nature preserve area.
  • Made a first drive-by of the propers for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, in preparation for preaching at St Andrew's, Carbondale on November 24.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Tuesday

  • Did my early morning stuff on the back patio after lighting the grill and otherwise preparing to smoke a brisket.
  • Took a phone call from a reporter seeking a comment on Bishop Beckwith's death.
  • Worked through a short stack of relatively small administrative items. 
  • Made a pastoral care phone call.
  • Circled back to check in with a priest from outside the diocese who has expressed an interest in working in Springfield.
  • Throughout all of this, checked periodically on the brisket.
  • Had an early-ish lunch of leftovers.
  • Out the door at 1230 to take Brenda to her acupuncture appointment. Back a little before 2:00.
  • Put together a draft of the liturgy booklet for the synod Eucharist. It all went smoothly (I had a document from a prior year to use as a template), but it was nonetheless time-consuming because it involved going online to purchase graphics file of service music from Church Publishing.
  • "Knocked off," as it were, around 3:30, in partial deference to catching up on the effects of being "in the job" for fourteen straight days. Took care of a handful of relatively minor domestic chores ... and continued to pay attention to the brisket.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • I guess I don't have to mention what we had for dinner! It turned out very well.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

Out the door of the Hilton Garden O'Fallon at 7:50 en route to a 0900 arrival 57 miles away at St Thomas', Salem. Presided and preached at their regular 0930 liturgy, not as a visitation, but as "supply priest" in the absence of Fr Baumann this weekend. Then, after a cameo appearance at coffee hour, it was on to St John's, Centralia, which Fr Baumann also takes care of, for their 1130 service. St John's worships jointly with the congregation of Redeemer Lutheran these days, under Fr Baumann's leadership, and today it was the ELCA liturgy and the Episcopal hymnal on the rota, so I tried to gamely adapt from my familiar routine with the BCP, and it seemed to go well. By around 1:45 I was back on the road northward, arriving home at 6:15. 

Sermon for Proper 21

St Thomas' Salem & St John's Centralia--Luke 17:5-10
       
A good many years ago, I, along with many thousands of others, was a dedicated listener to a talk show host who was quite popular at the time and more than a little bit controversial. I found out recently she’s still on the air, on satellite radio. I’m talking about Dr Laura Schlesinger, who is a dispenser of moral advice. I don’t always agree with her analysis of the issues and problems that her callers present to her, but I like her general philosophy, her underlying attitude. Dr Laura is very much about doing the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s embarrassing, even when it hurts. And, judging from the popularity of her program and books, there are apparently a good many people who are concerned about how they conduct themselves, concerned about “doing the right thing” in their interpersonal and public relationships.

There are, of course, of variety a reasons for wanting to “do the right thing”, some more or less worthy than others, some more or less appropriate than others. These range from wanting to move with the right crowd socially, to climbing the next rung in the corporate ladder, to looking for a source of self-esteem. One motivation that many have for being concerned with “doing the right thing” is the desire—although they might not always phrase it this way—the desire to please God. Now, even the motivation to please God itself has a whole range of sub-motivations. Some, in the movies at any rate, try to placate an angry deity by throwing a virgin into a volcano. Others try to manipulate an uncooperative God by performing just the right ritual or ceremony.
In our own cultural and religious tradition, a popular motivation for pleasing God has been the attempt to build up a sufficient number of “points”, enough “good deeds,” to secure admission to Heaven after passing from this mortal life.

Any way you look at it, though, the matter of pleasing God, the matter of “doing the right thing” with respect to our creator, is one of the fundamental religious questions that everyone has to some time come to terms with, in one way or another. And this is a question that even someone like Dr Laura cannot always help us with. As we search for the answer to this question, our hope is that by finding the key to pleasing God, God will then bless us, direct his favor onto our lives.

Sometimes this hoped-for blessing is quite temporal and material. When I lived in southern California in the ‘70s, there was a popular TV preacher who went by “Reverend Ike.” Reverend Ike taught that if you get your act together with respect to God, you'll be wearing mink and driving a Cadillac. (Those were the status symbols then; today it would be more like driving a Mercedes and owning a condo on Maui.) And if you were not financially prosperous, that was a sign that you weren't trying to please God in the right way, and if you wanted to get back on track, the place to start was by sending Reverend Ike a substantial check!

At other times, the blessing that we desire is spiritual and eternal. We want the assurance that, on the other side of the grave, we will not suffer the fate of the rich man in last Sunday's gospel parable, but will join Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

Doing the right thing.  Pleasing God.

Having send three children through college, and being married to someone who worked in university admissions office, I’m aware that the first early-decision acceptance letters for those who will start college in the fall of 2020 will begin arriving about three months from now. A few of the brightest and best and luckiest of this year's crop of high school seniors will be accepted everywhere they apply, and will even have colleges offering to pay them to attend.  It will be tempting for these fortunate young people with multiple acceptances and multiple scholarships to become just a little bit cocky. It will be tempting for them to adopt an attitude like, “Hey! Look at all I've done. They owe it to me.”

They owe it to me.  This is a crucial shift, a crucial move, from humility ... to arrogance.

It is equally possible, and equally tempting, for someone who is accomplished at “doing the right thing,” to make the same move with respect to God. “Hey, God, look at all I've done. You owe me your blessing. You owe me a Mercedes and a condo on Maui, you owe me admission to Heaven.” We take our cue from our own litigious society, where justice—what one person owes another—where justice is defined by the law, and interpreted and enforced by the court.

But, believe me, making such a move, trying to tell God what he owes us, is a bad idea!  We can't sue God, we can't hold God accountable to the civil code. We cannot place God in our debt by “doing the right thing.” The parable from Luke's gospel that we read today makes this precise point. Jesus describes a scenario that was presumably common among those who were listening to him on this occasion: Suppose you had an employee whose normal job it is to both work around the property—out in the fields tilling crops or taking care of animals—and also to do domestic chores such as cooking and serving meals. You would expect that person to do his job, and to neither complain nor expect a bonus or a special commendation just because he comes in from the field and serves your dinner before he gets his own.

Now, to our own modern egalitarian ears, that all sounds rather harsh. We would find it ethically difficult to treat an employee in such a way. We'd be more likely to help cook the meal and then invite him to sit down and eat with us. But it would be a mistake to allow such a cultural difference to keep us from seeing the point Jesus is trying to make. At the very end of the parable, Jesus does a flip-flop. He suddenly turns the tables, and instead of inviting us to identify with the employer who is waited on by his faithful and tired servant, Jesus calls us to identify with the servant!  “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’“

We are unworthy servants. God does not owe us any special praise or commendation or thanks for our efforts to be kind or fair or ethical or law-abiding or generous or even for being religious—for coming to the Eucharist every Sunday, for giving our money to support the church, for saying our prayers. None of this places God in our debt.  “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

Think of the saintliest, holiest, most upright person you know or know about. Now realize this: God is no more indebted to that person than he is to Attila the Hun or Osama bin Laden!  That's the truth—the tough-to-take truth.

But there's also good news in all this, marvelously good news. That which God is under no obligation to give us on account of justice, because he owes it to us, God wants to freely give us out of mercy, because he loves us. What we cannot earn ... is ours as a gift! In the words of St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “You are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, to keep anyone from boasting.”  To keep anyone from saying, “I got here by doing the right thing.”

Those of us who are parents know that if we were able to give our children whatever we wanted, it would be much much more than either the law or common standards of decency would require of us. In most cases, it would also be more than our children would even ask. Our God wants to treat us at least that well. This knowledge of God's grace, unearned, unowed, but freely given, enables us to do the right thing, not as a way of earning God's favor or placing him in our debt, but as a response of gratitude and devotion. The knowledge of God's free grace enables us to do our duty—to worship, to pray, to give of our time and talent and treasure—but not because it's our duty. Jesus invites us to get in touch with the Father's love for us, to accept the grace of God shed so generously on our lives, and then, motivated by gratitude, to do the right thing. Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Saturday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Breakfast at Charlie Parker's.
  • Participated in the development of a formal email announcement to the diocese of Bishop Beckwith's death.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow, when I will be "supplying" at St Thomas', Salem and St John's, Centralia.
  • Responded to a short stack of emails that had been lingering for a couple of days.
  • Wrote a promised discretionary fund check to be hand-delivered in the afternoon.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten in the office.
  • Ran a personal errand--out to Scheel's for a pair of hiking boots that can stand up to winter conditions.
  • Moved my sermon prep for Proper 24 (October 20 in Carlinville) from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Scanned, categorized, and tagged the accumulated hard copy items on my desk.
  • Packed up my office encampment, loaded the YFNBmobile, and headed down to O'Fallon for a 4pm meeting with the Mission Leadership Team of St Michael's, as they come to grips with the concrete realities of a pastoral hiatus.
  • Checked in at the Hilton Garden, walked a lap around their lagoon, caught dinner at a pizza place across the street, walked two more lagoon laps.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday (St Francis)

  • Up at 0500, out of the garage at 0534. In the office at 0900.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon briefly on a couple of things, organized my tasks, then conferred with the Archdeacon again on some additional matters, these more weighty than the previous ones.
  • Took my developed outline of a sermon for Proper 23 (October 13 at St Christopher's, Rantoul) and brought it to the rough draft text stage.
  • Lunch from Chick-Fil-A, eaten in the mall parking lot, listening to the radio.
  • We have accumulated a substantial sum of money to assist with clergy healthcare insurance in the Diocese of Tabora, and it had been my intent to actually wire the funds. With the Archdeacon's help, I found the record of the last such transaction, which contained all the necessary information, and hoofed it down to Illinois National Bank. To my surprise, they've changed their policy, and will no longer work off of such forms. They require fresh information. Now, if I had just copied down the information in my own handwriting and brought *that,* it would have been acceptable. Frustrating. So I emailed Bishop Elias and let him know the lay of the land.
  • Returned a voicemail from a lay person in the southern part of the diocese with a technical question about a baptism.
  • Had a substantive telephone conversation with one of the clergy of the diocese over a pastoral issue that I only became aware of a couple of days ago. Followed it up with a text and an email to a couple of other interested parties.
  • Learned via Facebook message of the death this afternoon of Bishop Peter Beckwith, my immediate predecessor. It was a surprise, as we were not aware of the illness that took his life.
  • Attended to some straggling communication issues.
  • In the cathedral, did a lectio divina on today's Old Testament reading from the daily office lectionary. Followed up with Evening Prayer.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Thursday (Therese of Lisieaux)

  • Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, crossword, task planing.
  • Hoofed it the 1.2 miles to my chiropractic appointment, then back.
  • Spent the balance of the morning with commentaries on Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching the readings for Proper 27 (November 10 at St Matthew's, Bloomington).
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended to a handful of smallish matters pertaining to synod, communication, and clergy deployment.
  • Did master sermon planning for the period between Advent I and Epiphany Last. This is a pretty major project that happens three times a year, and involves looking over previously-used material to see whether it can be repurposed (most of the time, these days, it can't), and plotting tasks accordingly. It also involved roughing out my 2020 visitation calendar, though it's not ready to share yet.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the synod Mass.
  • Took a brisk walk on a blustery day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wednesday (Holy Guardian Angels)

After eight consecutive days without a day off, the last five of them having been packed with meetings, public worship, and travel, I made a prudential decision and canceled a planned day trip to Nashotah House for a meeting of the corporation members, hoping to make some headway into an extraordinarily long to-do list (78 actions items in play at the morning's count), as well as address some quotidian domestic issues, like grocery shopping and laundry. Actual personal down time will have to wait.
  • Allowed myself to "sleep in" by about 30 minutes. Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, crossword, task organizing (which took a while, because it involved clearing out my email inbox, which was stuffed).
  • Walked Shane Spellmeyer's ordination certificate down to the post office and sent it "express priority" to Marquette, MI where it will hopefully arrive in time for his scheduled ordination (I had to outsource the deed itself to the Bishop of Northern Michigan) on Saturday.
  • Responded to a handful of late-arriving emails. 
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took a phone call from a lay communicant in one of our parishes regarding an emerging, and serious, pastoral issue.
  • Attended to another request for some detailed information from my tax advisor.
  • Did some necessary grocery shopping.
  • Reviewed a draft service bulletin for October 20 in Carlinville and made some suggested tweaks.
  • Took a phone call from another member of the Eucharistic Community referenced above about the same pastoral issue.
  • Carefully drafted a message to the diocese about some developments at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign and posted it to the website.
  • Worked with the Communicator to put the finishing touches on that major pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage that I've mentioned several times in this diary. It's now live on the website.
  • Evening Prayer in our little chapel.
  • Worked most of the evening responding to emails that accumulated during the time I was jammed with meetings and travel.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Tuesday (St Remigius)

Early breakfast at the Hilton Garden, Lewisville, TX with the Bishop of Dallas and his Canon to the Ordinary. Lively conversation among good friends. Returned to my room, said my prayers, packed, and headed to DFW, which was not a long drive. Returned my rental car (from Sixt, which is a British company new on the scene here, and with which I have now had two quite positive experiences), checked my bag, cleared security, and had time for lunch at a tapas place before having to be ready to board at noon for a 12:30 departure. Everything went smoothly, and was back home at 4:00. Cleared a bunch of unprocessed emails from my inbox (creating about fifteen new tasks as a result) and got all my work back where I can see it. Read Evening Prayer. Took Brenda out for an al fresco dinner, on what is probably the last night when such will be possible this year.

Monday, September 30, 2019

St Michael & All Angels

Out the door at 0800 to catch a 1010 flight from O’Hare to Dallas, touching down at 1245. Picked up my rental care and made my way to the Hilton Garden Inn in suburban Lewisville. Had some lunch at a nearby restaurant, got settled, and took a bit of down time. Eventually drove the five miles or so to the Church of the Annunciation, getting there around 6 pm. An hour later, the ordination liturgy began, and we made Jonathan Totty a priest. For Jonathan is serving as curate at Annunciation, but he’s a product of the ordination process in Springfield. It was a complete joy, and he is, by all accounts, doing a splendid job in the parish.




Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVI Pentecost)

Up and out of my hotel room in Marion in time to arrive at St Stephen's, Harrisburg at 0930, half and hour before their regular 1000 Eucharist. I was flying solo because their priest-in-charge, Fr Tim Goodman, is in hospital recovering from surgery. I spoke with Carol, his wife, while en route so as to be able to give the people a fresh report. Hung out a good while at the post-liturgical luncheon, hitting the road north around 12:30. Got home a little past 6pm.

Sermon for Proper 20

St Stephen’s, Harrisburg-- Luke 16:19–31

I’m probably not the only one in the room this morning who can say this, but I have from time to time indulged in fantasies about what I would do if I won the lottery in a big way. I would, of course, ensure the financial security of my family, but most of my fantasies involve giving money away—being able to support institutions and causes that mean a great deal to me. Of course, I’ve been predictably unlucky in playing the lottery, owing in part to the fact that I don’t actually buy lottery tickets but maybe once a decade, and, as they say, if you don’t play, you can’t win.

But, given what the scriptures have to say about the spiritual hazards of wealth, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been lucky by not ever winning. Just to cite a few of many possible sources, there’s the rather stunning language about reversal of fortune that we find in the text from Luke’s gospel that Anglicans use at Evening Prayer—the Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” Then there’s the teaching of Jesus about how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And it’s certainly a dominant theme in this morning’s gospel parable about the rich man and Lazarus.

Just as the saying goes that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” we can say that wealth corrodes the soul and great wealth corrodes the soul greatly. (Now, just for the record, everyone in this church today is, by world standards, greatly wealthy, so … the saying applies to all of us.) The acquisition of great wealth sets one on a slow but inexorable slide toward spiritual corrosion. When I fly, as I do several times a year, I surely don’t spring for first class, but I do pay the extra thirty or forty  bucks or so for seats that have slightly more leg room and are closer to the front of the plane. I can justify it on a number of levels, like the fact that I’m claustrophobic, or that being more comfortable on the place will make me more effective in doing whatever I’ll be doing when I arrive at my destination, but it’s just a few steps away from an attitude of entitlement: I’ve earned this perk … by being 68 years old, by being the Lord Bishop of Springfield … whatever. And the end of the arc that begins with the airline seat selections I make, is where the rich man in the parable lives: In contemporary terms, clothed in custom-made designer apparel, and eating food from five-star chefs at every meal.

This all leads to the nth degree of the sin of Pride, which is such an inflated and developed degree of entitlement that one puts oneself in the place of God, becoming completely self-absorbed and self-referential. The rich man is licked literally by the flames of hell, as St Luke’s text presents the parable, not for being rich, per se, but for not being mindfully rich, for being callously rich, for not being prudently rich. His cluelessness is only compounded when he asks Abraham to send Lazarus—by name, no less (!)—to bring him a drop of water and then to go warn his brothers to clean up their act, so they don’t end up where he is. The rich man knew by name the beggar who had lived right in front of his house—so, he can’t plausibly plead ignorance of Lazarus’ condition—he knew the name of the beggar with whom he had failed to even lean momentarily in the direction of generosity.

So, wealth is dangerous because, if we’re not super-careful, it can put us on the wrong side of the great gulf that separates those who walk in the presence of God and those who are eternally separated from God. The rich man, too late, recognizes this, and realizes that his brothers, who are also rich, are vulnerable to his fate, and he begs Abraham to somehow warn them.

Now, the key to understanding a parable is usually to place yourself within it, to identify with one of the characters. How would we approach this parable that way? I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to identify with Abraham, nor could I, or any of us, plausibly identify with Lazarus. There might be a bit of pressure to see ourselves as the rich man, but none of us, to my knowledge, employs a celebrity chef on our household staff, so … maybe not.

Well, who’s left, then? Why, it’s the rich man’s brothers! WE ARE THE BROTHERS! It’s not yet too late for us. We have time to change our ways, to learn to use our wealth prudently, to cultivate the habit of generosity, to be faithful stewards, to be good neighbors. But who will warn us? Who will bring us that message that the rich man hoped Lazarus would bring to his brothers?

Today’s good news is precisely this: WE HAVE BEEN WARNED!  We have not only “the Law and Prophets,” as the rich man’s brothers did, but we actually do have someone who has come back from the dead, and we meet on the first day of every week to eat and drink and celebrate our union with that One who has come back from the dead, that One by whose teaching, example, and grace we are able to triumph over the sin of pride, and offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to God, the One from who we can learn the humility and generosity that enable us to become threads in the beautiful tapestry of redemption that God is weaving.

The only question is: Will we hear and heed the warning and repent of our self-absorbed, entitled, imprudent use of the wealth that has been entrusted to us, and for which we must one day render an accounting as stewards? Appropriating the grace of this Holy Communion is a good place to start down that road of repentance.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Saturday (St Wenceslas)

  • Out of my office encampment and in the cathedral reading Morning Prayer by 0730.
  • Down to McD's for a quick breakfast, then back to prepare cathedral chancel area for the Cursillo Ultreya Mass, mentally prepare a homily, and otherwise get ready. Took a few minutes to process the collection hard copy items on my desk.
  • Celebrated and preached the Ultreya Mass, anticipating the feast of St Michael & All Angels.
  • Attended a nearly three-hour Standing Committee meeting. We had a lot to talk about. Most of the time was devoted to the first "annual review" of the bishop's ministry. Yes, it was actually my idea, and my mantra at this moment is "There is no such thing as bad feedback; all information is useful."
  • Walked to lunch at nearby Boone's with four members of the committee.
  • Came back and decompressed with an episode of the show "Britannia" on Amazon Prime video.
  • Signed and sealed certificates for two transitional deacons who are about to be ordained to the priesthood.
  • Wrote out notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in October.
  • Refined and printed my homily for Proper 21, tomorrow at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Performed necessary cosmetic surgery on a sermon text for Proper 21 (next Sunday at the two Marion County Eucharistic Communities,
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Headed south around 5:30, arriving at the Hampton Inn in Marion just before 9:00, with a longish stop for dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Mt Vernon.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday (St Vincent de Paul)

  • Out the door and headed southbound at 0530.
  • Kept an 0800 breakfast appointment with Fr Halt in Bloomington. We discussed a broad range of issues.
  • At the (otherwise empty) office around 1030. Spotted Fr Wells' vehicle and went into the cathedral office to have a few words with him.
  • Got my computer plugged in, cleaned off my desk a bit, and otherwise got myself organized, task-wise.
  • Stepped out at 1115 to keep an 1130 lunch appoint in-lieu-0f-an-Ember-Day-letter with one of our postulants. This included a quite rich theological discussion of Origen of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers.
  • Headed down the street from there to the blood bank, where I had an appointment to donate red cells. It actually happened this time, as my hemoglobin level was not compromised, as it was the last time I tried.
  • Drove the YFNBmobile down to Green Mazda for some scheduled maintenance. Caught an Uber back to the office.
  • Met with another of our postulants for nearly two hours in one of a series of tutorial sessions in liturgics. 
  • Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.
  • Grabbed a dinner of chicken wings and broccoli in the Dirksen Parkway corridor. Headed back to the barn for an early bedtime. This introvert is maxed out.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday (Lancelot Andrewes)

  • Up and out for an 0800 chiropractor appoint. At my "work station" about 1030.
  • Began responding to a short stack of late-arriving emails that were not yet in the task system, some of them minor but urgent.
  • Had an extensive conversation with one of our parish clergy who phoned me.
  • Dealt with some lingering details regarding the text of my synod address, how it should be processed for publication by the Communications Coordinator.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Opened a sermon file on Proper 27, which will find me at St Matthew's, Bloomington on November 10.
  • Broke off from this work to take Brenda to an acupuncture appointment, where I leveraged the opportunity to get some reading done.
  • Returned to the sermon task, make some initial notes on the readings.
  • Took a brisk 35-minute walk.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Attended to some routine calendar maintenance chores. Got packed and loaded for an 0-dark-thirty departure for Springfield in the morning (with a breakfast appointment in Bloomington en route).

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday (St Sergius)

  • Intercessions and MP in our domestic chapel. Tea, breakfast, crossword, email scanning, task planning--i.e. the usual morning routine.
  • Did some final proofreading edits on my synod address and sent the text off to the Communicator so she can begin to prepare some PowerPoint slides.
  • Made and communicated a difficult decision about a mission travel opportunity next spring. Regretfully having to decline.
  • Reviewed some materials pertaining to the Lambeth Conference.
  • Reviewed an appeal from the Diocese of Southeast Florida for contributions in relief of hurricane damage in the Bahamas. Arranged for a discretionary fund gift.
  • Forwarded to parish clergy some materials related to congregational development from one of the presentations at last week's House of Bishops meeting that was actually worthwhile.
  • Scheduled a service appointment for the YFNBmobile for when I'm in Springfield this Friday.
  • Took a walklet with Brenda, the route of which I leveraged to be able to stop by Pizza Hut and pick up some lunch. Consumed said lunch in from of a mindless TV episode. (If you must know: NCIS New Orleans.)
  • Sat intensively with my notes for the readings of Proper 24 until they yielded a homiletical message statement, which will be developed into a sermon for my visitation to St Paul's, Carlinville on October 20.
  • Answered a query from my tax preparer for more info (we're "negotiating" with the Illinois Department of Revenue).
  • Attended to a small pastoral-administrative matter.
  • Reviewed both quantitative and qualitative feedback on the ministry review instrument that the Standing Committee and I agreed on and which was completed by about 20 laity and clergy in the diocese. This is in preparation for my meeting with the Standing Committee on Saturday.
  • Reviewed a report from our historiography team. I wish I knew of a simple and inexpensive process for digitizing our diocesan archives (which contain enough information, I would suspect, for multiple doctoral dissertations to be written).
  • Reviewed a recently-submitted Mission Strategy Report.
  • Took another walk, this time longer, to get to my step goal.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tuesday (Our Lady of Walsingham)

  • Usual start to a weekday workday morning.
  • Wrestled heavily with my homiletical message statement for Proper 24 (October 13 in Rantoul), ending up with a developed outline that will provide the basis for a rough draft next week.
  • Took a brief walk, about six blocks, just to decompress (much as I might have were I in the office).
  • Dealt with a lingering financial-administrative diocesan issue.
  • Lunch from a nearby taqueria, eaten at home.
  • Digested an unanticipated email about a serious pastoral-administrative issue. Plotted further actions.
  • Substantive phone conversation with a priest who is interested in exploring deployment in the diocese.
  • Read and replied to a stack of Ember Day letters from our postulants and candidates for Holy Orders.
  • Took the developed outline of my address to synod next month and turned it into a rough draft. It will need some refinement, but it's essentially finished.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Lord's Day (XV Pentecost)

We drove back home from Minneapolis yesterday without incident. But the whole experience of being at the House of Bishops, on top of the rail journey to Mississippi the previous weekend left me feeling pretty drained, so I'm allowing myself time to recover. That didn't stop me, of course, from fulfilling the commitment I have made to the rector of Ascension here in Chicago to cover for him while he's in California burying his mother. So I presided and preached at the 0900 and 1100 liturgies there. It's always a joy.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday (John Coleridge Patteson)

Day Four of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops.

The available morning time was devoted to a presentation from, and interaction with, members of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church. Although this committee has been in existence since 1821, we were told, the President of the House of Deputies intentionally constituted this particular iteration solely with members of Generation X and Millennials. The oldest member is 51. After introducing themselves, they spread themselves out amongst the tables of bishops to ask a series of open-ended questions and invite responses. What excites us in our ministries? What discourages or challenges us? What is our most ambitious aspiration for TEC? What's holding us back from fulfilling that aspiration? You get the idea. My contributions included what I said the other day about the perils of using the Eucharist as a tool for evangelism, and an observation that the biggest obstacles holding us back are sheer intertial momentum and lack of a critical mass of members who are fully converted to Christ. Oh ... and that Sunday visitation are the highest joy of my work.

The afternoon began with what has become a customary feature of HOB meetings, known as the Fireside Chat. (It began many years ago when Presiding Bishop Griswold gathered members of the house around a literal fireplace at Kanuga.) It's a chance for the PB to informally share various things that are on his mind. Today's items included recent developments in the dioceses of South Carolina and Venezuela.

We then moved into the single formal business meeting of our time together. The principal item on the agenda was consideration of a draft "message" from the HOB to the entire Episcopal Church about the Lambeth Conference, particularly in light of widespread dismay over the fact that Archbishop Welby declined to invite the same-sex spouses of our three LGBT active bishops (along with one in Canada). I've already expressed my views about the drama around this subject in general, so I won't cover the same ground here, except to mention that I did stand up and point out that the language of the document, in several places, indicates a degree of unanimity that is simply not present. There was lengthy debate, and several amendments offered, and many accepted, that attempted to address in various ways the issue I raised. In the end, it passed, of course, with 60 Aye votes, 17 Nays, and three abstentions. So, roughly one-quarter of the house did not support the statement, which is, I think, noteworthy.

The afternoon, and the the entire meeting, concluded with more "self-organized" groups. I attended the one featuring the task force on "communion across difference." It was appointed by the Presiding Bishop, and the PHOD, in response to a 2018 General Convention resolution, and its purpose is to seek ways by which those who hold opposing views around sexuality and marriage can all flourish in the same church, in equally sustainable ways. To that end, it is equally weighted between supporters of the historic understanding of marriage and supporters of marriage redefinition. It is a daunting task, but it is critical that its mission be accomplished--from my perspective, so that those who hold an orthodox position don't have to consider every General Convention a potential existential threat. 

At 5:00pm, I headed immediately over to the home our our daughter's family in St Paul, where we had pizza delivered and enjoyed one another's company. We'll head toward home in the morning.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

Day Three of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops. From the standpoint of subject matter considered, the day can be understood in three sections: morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon.

The morning was devoted to a report from the House of Bishops Theology Committee, which includes mostly bishops, but also some professional theologians, both lay and ordained. The report focused on white supremacy--its historical roots, its enduring effects, and what some name as a recent resurgence. We were given via email yesterday an executive summary of a much longer document that have produced, and then, today, we were sent the document itself. The report calls out any notion of white supremacy as a sin--a collective sin of which not only the larger society is guilty, but the Episcopal Church is guilty as well. 

I don't think there's anyone in the church who would disagree that the notion of white supremacy is a pernicious evil. It contradicts and undermines the very core of the gospel, and it is not inappropriate that the church examine its complicity with it in the past, and, when called for, take remedial action. It appears that the theology committee is wanting us to digest their work, and invite us to come back to it in the future, It's an ongoing project. If I have any cautionary flags to wave, it would be a hope that we don't allow the strong emotions that the subject can evoke to drive us into making pronouncements about public policy that rely on the a presumption of expertise that does not actually exist within our ranks, that overlook the complexity of the phenomenon, and needlessly provoke division in the church.

The early afternoon was devoted to "self-organizing groups" covering a variety of different concerns. I attended a meeting of the Communion Partners. We covered a variety of subjects, mostly mundane and practical, but the "900 pound gorilla" was the news received just yesterday that our friend a colleague Bishop Bill Love of Albany will be brought to what is in effect a trial over his stated intention of upholding the canons of his own diocese and declining to make provision in any way for the celebration of same-sex marriage in Albany. (None of the Communion Partner bishops will flat-out allow same-sex marriage, but the rest of us have agreed to various schemas whereby we cede our spiritual oversight of a parish to another bishop.) We are united in our support of Bishop Love and will stand with him through this process. 

What I, at least, wish the "powers that be" might come to understand is that there are no winners in the scenario which they have set in motion. I wish they could "see the whole board" the way a master chess player does, and think several moves ahead, rather than just stumbling from one move to the next. The entire Anglican Communion is watching. If sanctions taken against Bishop Love amount to anything more severe than a written reprimand, he will become an instant martyr. The Diocese of  Albany will re radicalized. There will be unrest in other dioceses. There will likely be several more years of property litigation in the secular courts. The Anglican provinces that are already suspicious of TEC will be pushed over the line into breaking communion. Companion diocese relationships will be terminated. In an era of precipitous decline, the rate of the decline will be accelerated exponentially. There is no way this ends well for anybody. Although the train has begun to leave the station, there is still time to halt it before it becomes a wreck. But not much. 

The late afternoon invited us to turn our attention once again to next year's Lambeth Conference. Several of my colleagues are in agony over whether to accept their invitation, believing that by doing so they are aiding an abetting the fundamentally unjust basis on which they were sent--that is, excluding the same-sex spouses of LGBT bishops (on the basis that, since there is actually no such thing as same-sex marriage, the partners involved are not, in fact, spouses; hence there is no invidious discrimination). It was a closed session, so I'm limited in the specifics that I can share, but I certainly can say that there was a great deal of metaphorical hand-wringing and lots of genuine angst. Again, what I wish my friends and colleagues could see more clearly is that, while they experience the Archbishop's decision as unjust and harsh, the majority of the Anglican Communion sees it as way too lenient, an essentially meaningless gesture, and hundreds of bishops are staying away from Lambeth as a result. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the feelings of anyone who came to the microphone today, I cannot help but see the drama I witnessed as one more manifestation of western privilege, where wealth is presumed to buy entitlement and power; indeed, a manifestation of the very sort of white supremacy we spent the first half of the afternoon decrying. So, let those who need to stay home do so. If I had been writing the script, none of the TEC bishops who have authorized same-sex marriage would have been invited. TEC has been consistently warned for the last sixteen years what the consequences would be for the actions we have taken. Nonetheless, we took the actions anyway, for the perceived sake of justice. Now we are shocked that we are indeed seeing the consequences we were told about years ago. We shouldn't be.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday (E.B. Pusey)

Day Two of the 2019 regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops. The Eucharist was celebrated, keeping the lesser feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey, with the Bishop of Puerto Rico presiding and the Bishop of West Tennessee preaching.

Both morning and afternoon sessions featured Adam Hamilton, founding and senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist congregation in the world (average Sunday attendance over 12,000), located in Kansas City. He is the author of several books and a highly sought-after speaker on the areas of leadership development and evangelism. Without any doubt, this was the best and most worthwhile outside presentation in all my eight-and-a-half years in House of Bishops. He is a remarkably gifted leader, pastor, evangelist, and teacher. By his own admission, he didn't tell us anything we didn't already know, but articulated it in freshly compelling ways that were inspiring. The planning team got it right this time. Even though I am saddened that Pastor Hamilton comes down on what I believe is the wrong side of some controverted issues, particularly on marriage, his humble faith and dedicated discipleship of the Lord Jesus are authentic.

In his ecclesial context, Pastor Hamilton's approach to evangelism has a certain coherence. He carefully orchestrates the Sunday morning experience to be accessible to people with little or no faith or faith formation. They are his target, because, he would say, they were Jesus' target. I'm not going to argue with his targeting decision; in fact, I wholeheartedly support it. But I would lament Episcopalian leaders emulating his example with respect to the Sunday liturgy. The Eucharist, which is normative in TEC while not in the UMC, is not for "seekers," not for "lookers." It is for the initiated, for dedicated disciples. We ought not to be using the Sunday Eucharist as our "show window," as  the primary point of connection with the unchurched. This is an abuse of both the Eucharist and the unchurched. (I wrote about this some time ago.)

Rather, we need to be about finding ways of connecting people with the gospel in their world, not in ours. (Indeed, Pastor Hamilton gives an excellent example of conducting an Alpha series in back room of a cigar shop.) Or ... if we can't break away from the "invite your friends to church" model, let's at least structure worship services that are low-demand, accessible, with room for a 30-minute teaching sermon, but are non-eucharistic. (In the Anglican tradition, of course, we have something ready-made for this end. It's called Morning Prayer.) This means that a parish would want to have a celebration of the Eucharist, with low-key publicity, in addition to a seeker-0riented observance of Morning Prayer, or a more loosely-structured worship event, which would impossibly strain the resources of most of our parishes. But in a post-Christian society, the Eucharist cannot be asked to bear the freight of evangelism. That's not what it's for, not what it is.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tuesday (Hildegard of Bingen)

Day One of the regular 2019 fall meeting of the House of Bishops. We began with Eucharist, at which the Presiding Bishop preached. As is his wont, he preached the gospel with some degree of fullness, so by the time he was finished, it was the departure hour for spouses who were signed up for a Mississippi River boat cruise. Brenda and I parted company at that point. The rest of the morning was devoted to table groups for "check in" time. This may sound like fluff, but it's not. Bishops have no peers in their daily lives, so it's important to have time to share with peers on those rare occasions when we are together what's going on in our lives. The afternoon was devoted to presentations about (and brief plenary discussion of) next year's Lambeth Conference. Many in the house remain annoyed at the Archbishop of Canterbury's decision not to invite the spouses of bishops in same-sex relationships. Some are planning on attending in order to "make a witness." Others are declining the invitation for the same reason. What they all seem not to realize is that the Archbishop's decision, which seems unjustly harsh to them, is seen by most of the Anglican world as risibly lenient--hardly a meaningful "consequence" of TEC's decision to alter the Church's historic core doctrine around marriage--and a great many of them are staying away from Lambeth to make their witness to the integrity of the gospel. If I thought it would help all from the Global South to see their way clear to attending, I would counsel most of my TEC colleagues to stay away. Sadly, we may be beyond that point.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday (St Ninian)

Our City of New Orleans Amtrak train arrived at Union Station in Chicago about 20 minutes early, around 8:45. We caught an Uber home and attended to various necessary tasks, repacked our suitcases, and were back on the road just after 1:30, arriving in downtown Minneapolis at 9:15. The meeting of the House of Bishops starts in the morning.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Lord's Day (Proper 19)

We enjoyed another lovely visitation with the gracious people of Trinity, Yazoo City, MS. It is a joy to serve them as the bishop under DEPO. After the liturgy and potluck, we were able to work out an extended stay at the Hampton Inn, and appreciated the down time (during which I achieved that elusive "Inbox Zero") before being picked up by the Woodliffs at 6:15 for transportation to the Amtrak station. The train arrived on time and we are once again spending the night on the rails, looking forward to arrival in Chicago in the neighborhood of 0900.

Sermon for Proper 19

(This homily was delivered at my DEPO parish, Trinity Church in Yazoo City, MS, which I oversee on behalf of the Bishop of Mississippi.)

Exodus 32:7-14, I Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

If this were a classroom, instead of a church, there’s a certain game I would like to play with you. I would divide this congregation into two groups. I would ask Group One to read the following passage of scripture, from the prophet Joel:
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. 
I would also ask Group One to read a passage from the book of Revelation:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?"
I would then ask Group One to write a description of the nature of God, based solely on the information that they could glean from these two passages.

What do you suppose they would come up with? Words like “angry” and “vengeful” and “capricious” would probably come to mind quite readily. But if the members of Group One continue to reflect seriously on the question, they might arrive at a more positive adjective, such as “just.” God is just, even in his wrath.

A few minutes ago, we read a very dramatic narrative from the book of Exodus. Moses has been up on Mt Sinai for forty days receiving the Torah—the Law—from the hand of God. He comes down at last, and what does he find the people of Israel doing? They have forsaken the Lord, who had led them out of slavery in Egypt, and taken to worshiping an idol, a golden calf that had been fashioned by Moses’ brother Aaron. At that moment, God announces to Moses that he’s about to press the Reset button on this whole enterprise of a chosen people, and start from scratch. Moses alone will survive. Strictly speaking, it would not have been at all unjust of God to destroy those people. They had behaved shamefully, and deserved to be done away with.

Stories like this bring us up short. When we allow ourselves one of those rare moments of absolutely clear honesty, we realize that if God were to be absolutely just with us, we would deserve something along the same lines of what God had in mind for those ancient Israelites. We have, indeed, done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone those things which we ought to have done. We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We deserve no less than the full wrath of God.

But what about the other half of the congregation, Group Two? I would also have some scripture readings for them. First, I would have them look at the fortieth chapter of the book of Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
I would also have Group Two look at those passages which long-time Episcopalians remember as the “comfortable words,” like John 3:16:
God so loved the world that he gave his only son, to the end that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. 
...and Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  
...and I John 2:1-2:
If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  
Then I would put the same question to Group Two: Describe the nature of God,
based solely on these passages of scripture. I think it’s safe to say that the results of their deliberations would offer a much different picture than that presented by Group One. Phrases like “slow to anger,” “rich in mercy,” “faithful,” “caring,” “forgiving,” and “compassionate” would emerge.

So ... are we talking about two different God’s here? Is there one God who is wrathful and just, and another God who is merciful and forgiving? In the early years of Christianity, there were some who thought precisely that. There was a fellow named Marcion who taught that the Hebrew God of the Old Testament was a completely distinct being from the Christian God of the New Testament. But Marcion’s views were eventually declared to be heresy, and the orthodox teaching of the church has been that God is both wrathful and merciful, both completely just and utterly loving.

And this is, of course, a paradox that is virtually impossible for the human mind to wrap itself around. We can understand justice and we can understand love, but we also understand that there are situations when those two values conflict with one another, and one must be favored to the detriment of the other. We cannot comprehend both love and justice being perfectly upheld by one being at all times.

Yet, this is precisely what our Christian faith teaches us to affirm. When God declared his intention to manifest the justice inherent in his nature and destroy the idolatrous Israelites, it was Moses, of course, who stepped into the breach. He implored God on the people’s behalf. He reminded God of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of everything he had already invested in that people. Moses begged God to relent, to change his mind, to turn away from his anger.

Now, it’s pretty amazing for a mortal man to talk to God this way, and it’s even more amazing still that God listened! In response to the intercession of Moses, God did change his mind, and manifested the mercy that is also inherent in his nature.

Now, as we read the Old Testament through the lens of the Christian gospel, we see in Moses a pre-figurement, a foreshadowing, of Jesus. When Moses stepped into the breach on behalf of Israel, he bridged the gap between God’s justice and God’s love. What Moses did for one nation on that one occasion, Jesus does for all people for all time. As he stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus stepped into the breach between God’s justice and God’s love, and forever bridged that gap.

And when God’s justice is combined with God’s love, the result is like a strong chemical reaction. The resulting compound is alive and active. It makes all things new. It seeks out wounds that need to be healed, relationships that need to be reconciled, sin that needs to be forgiven, loss that needs to be redeemed. The gospel parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate the persistence and power of justice combined with love. The shepherd does not passively wait for the lost sheep to wander back to the fold—he takes the initiative and searches for it. The widow does not just sit back and wait for the lost coin to turn up someday—she sweeps every corner of her house until she finds it.

Because God is just, he will not let us off the hook for ours sins. Because God is loving, he will not let us perish in our sins. Because Jesus bridges the gap between divine justice and divine love, God seeks me out, seeks you out, like we were that lost sheep or that lost coin. He takes us who are, in the words of the General Confession from Morning Prayer in the older Prayer Book—he takes us who are “miserable offenders” and fashions us into his own very image and likeness. He makes us holy; he redeems. The combination of justice and love is redemption.

In his letter to Timothy, St Paul holds himself out as “Exhibit A” in the collection of evidence that God is a redeeming God. Paul was a sworn enemy of the cross of Christ and the chief of sinners. He was the most unlikely candidate imaginable to be made a herald of the gospel of Christ. But the risen Jesus—the same Jesus who stands in the gap between the demands of justice and the demands of love—actively sought Paul out and knocked him off his horse with redemptive power.

Justice … plus love… equals redemption.

And the only appropriate response to redemption, on the part of those who have been redeemed, is thanksgiving. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what the word “eucharist” means: thanksgiving. You and I now have the opportunity to respond “eucharistically,” by offering ourselves at this altar, by making ourselves available to a God who is fully just and fully loving. Let’s not hold ourselves back. We wouldn’t want to miss anything he has to offer!

Amen.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross

Our train to Yazoo City, MS arrived at 10:00, just twenty minutes behind schedule, which, for Amtrak, at that distance from point-of-origin, is pretty good. Fr Woodliff, rector of Trinity, had seen to it that we were cleared for early arrival at the Hampton Inn, so we got settled in. An hour or so later, Fr George picked us up and we journeyed about an hour south and west to the historical community of Vicksburg. We enjoyed lunch at a rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view looking north and west, then toured the museum in the old courthouse (built just before the Civil War) and then the marked driving tour through the battleground and cemetery area. I was reminded how prominent Illinois troops were fighting for the Union in that conflict. Back to Yazoo and some down time at the hotel. Fr George and Jill picked us up for a 7:00 dinner at a place out on the Delta.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday (St Cyprian)

I'm writing this from the City of New Orleans Amtrak run that left Union Station in Chicago at 8:05pm. Our destination is Yazoo City, MS. Trinity Church there is under my oversight, per a request from the Bishop of Mississippi. We've had a happy relationship for six years now. Scheduled arrival is mod-morning on Saturday. Brenda and I have a sleeping compartment, so it's actually kind of fun. While much of the day was spent getting ready to be away for ten days (since, as soon as we arrive back in Chicago on Monday, we need to repack and hit the road by car to Minneapolis for a House of Bishops meeting), I did do the finish work on two homilies (for this Sunday and next), and stay on top of several administrative and pastoral situations.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday

  • Per recent Thursday pattern, 8:00-9:00 at the chiropractor's office (massage, exercise rehab therapy, chiropractor's table). Home, cleaned up, and organized by around 10:30.
  • Worked on some clergy deployment and mission strategy issues ('tis the season, apparently).
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took Brenda to her acupuncture appointment. Managed to process some email from my phone while she was essentially napping while needled up!
  • Another opportunity to spend quality time with biblical commentaries, this time in connection with preaching on Proper 24 (October 20 at St Paul's, Carlinville).
  • Roughed out the broad strokes of my address to synod.
  • Evening Prayer in our chapel.
  • After dinner (with a Bond movie running in the background): Made some final edits and revisions to my pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage, in light feedback from my vetting group. Ready for formatting now. Hope to promulgate in at the end of the month, on the feast of St Michael & All Angels.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual start to a working weekday.
  • But meat on the bones of my developed outline of a homily for Proper 21, turning it into a rough draft that can yet be perfected for use at St Stephen's, Harrisburg on the 29th.
  • Devoted the rest of the morning to working with my daughter and son and daughter-in-law in a project none of us anticipated or enjoyed: moving stuff out of the basement and stowing in temporarily in the garage so the rat exterminators we have engaged will have access to the space for cleaning and disinfecting. A rat infestation pretty much constitutes a near-emergency, I guess,
  • Lunched quickly on leftovers.
  • Headed to an appointment with my primary care doctor, following-up on the seven hours I spent in the ER Sunday nights into Monday morning with a kidney stone attack. I'm grateful to have been out of pain since I was released.
  • Dealt with issues pertaining to next month's annual synod, the Department of Mission, and clergy deployment (which is generally on the front burner now with as many vacancies as we have).
  • Took a 3,000-step walk with Brenda.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.