Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Lord's Day (XI Pentecost)

Out of my hotel accommodations in Glen Carbon in time to arrive at St Bartholomew's in Granite City about 30 minutes ahead of the regular 0930 Eucharist. Presided and preached for the small but dedicated band of regulars there, along with Fr Scott Hoogerhyde, who regularly takes care of them. After some post-liturgical visiting, it was time to head up to Edwardsville for a lunch appointment with a lay leader in one of our communities. Then, about 35 minutes back south on I-255 to Toddhall, where it was my joy once again to preside and breach the closing Mass for the Cursillo weekend. It was back in my car heading out at 4:50, and home exactly six hours later (after a brief stop at the office in Springfield, dinner in Lincoln, and gas in Odell).

Sermon for Proper 16

St Bartholomew’s, Granite City--Hebrews 12:18–29
                      
One of the attributes of God is that God does not change. In a universe full of change, God is the one constant, a fixed point. We can depend on God to be who God is, to be consistent with his own nature. But the way human beings speak about God changes all the time. Sometimes we talk about God as distant, severe, a Supreme Being who provokes us to fear and trembling. At other times, we imagine God as nearby, a kind and merciful Grandfather figure.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a famous sermon given by the New England Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards in the early 1700s. It’s known by the title Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards paints such a vivid picture of eternal damnation that you can feel the flames of Hell beginning to singe the hair on your arms! And then, by contrast, there the lyrics of “praise choruses” in the “Contemporary Christian Music” genre that have led some critics to sarcastically summarize them as “Jesus is my boyfriend.”

Or, if you’re looking for contrasting ways of describing God, spend some time with the Psalms. They are all over the map with regard to whether God is frightening or benevolent, angry or loving.

So … how are we supposed to approach God? Should we be kind of casual about it, like the grown child who walks through the front door of his parents’ home at 1am, raids the refrigerator, and plops down on the couch to watch a movie without giving a second thought to his sleeping parents? Or … should we come into God’s presence like the subjects of the Mongolian Khans, who entered the throne room with their heads bowed, never looked the ruler in the eye, and exited walking backwards so as to not turn their backs on the sovereign?

The answer, as you might imagine, lies somewhere between those two poles. But, if we take our cue from the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we’re going to find ourselves wanting to more closely imitate the behavior of the Mongols than that of the casual and presumptuous adult child. God is so utterly awesome that it makes sense for us to approach him with grateful trepidation, with confident fear, with humble trembling. Listen to the text of our reading:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
So, Moses is trembling with fear, and for good reason. If you’re paying attention, that description has to give you goosebumps. But what’s truly terrifying is that this description is of what the reader is not facing—“You have not come to what may be touched” etc. etc. So, what have we come to?
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Now, this is less immediately terrifying than the description of Moses going up Mt Sinai, but it is certainly still immensely humbling. It puts us in our place! Heavenly Jerusalem … innumerable angels … God, the judge of all … sprinkled blood—it’s all pretty darn impressive!

And then the author wraps it up with this:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Whenever you’re reading the Bible and you see the word “therefore,” that’s when you know to start really paying attention; that’s when the super-important stuff shows up. Therefore … what? Therefore let us be grateful. Gratitude is the foundation of our approach to God. We are grateful to God that he has given us a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” But then there’s more. “Let us offer to God acceptable worship.” And what constitutes acceptable worship? Well, the author tells us. “Let us offer acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” Reverence and awe. Why? Because “our God is a consuming fire.” Now we see where Jonathan Edwards got part of his inspiration!

This is why traditional Christian worship is full of symbolic objects, symbolic actions, and symbolic postures, all of which point to the sacredness of what we’re doing and the holiness of God. When we’re in church, we see and use material objects that we don’t see and use anywhere else. We speak words that we don’t speak anywhere else. We do things with our bodies that we don’t do anywhere else. Even in a small church with a small congregation like at St Bartholomew’s, there’s nothing “casual” about what we’re doing. We have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” We have come to invoke the Holy Spirit of God on our humble gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the very Body and Blood of his crucified and risen Son, given to us for the salvation of our souls, as we ourselves are given for the life of the world.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

St Bartholomew

Made the very short (5-7 minutes) drive from my hotel in Columbia to Toddhall in time for my scheduled 0930 presentation on the sacraments at the Cursillo weekend. It went well, though I could have talked much longer. It's a big subject! After a brief break, I presided and preached at a Eucharist in which we observed today's feast day. Not much is known about Bartholomew, so I spoke about apostolicity and apostleship in genera. I grabbed lunch from Burger King on my way out of town, and drove up to Fairview Heights to get some steps in by walking around St Clair Square mall. Malls are kind of sad places these days. Having killed sufficient time, I kept going north and slightly west to the Hampton Inn in Glen Carbon, my home for the night. Took a necessary nap, did some reading (the novel I'm in the midst of), and processed a few emails that were stragglers from yesterday. Drove back down to Fairview Heights for a dinner of Thai food, then enough walking back around the hotel to get me over the 10K step threshold. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday

  • Up at 0500 so as to be in the road to Springfield at 0530. I ended up eight minutes behind schedule, but still got to the office right at the targeted 0900.
  • Had the predictable extended discussion with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Processed the thick stack of hard-copy items on my desk, most of it having accumulated during my vacation, since last weekend was so jammed I didn't get to deal with it.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and scheduled for posting the text of my homily for this Sunday (at St Bartholomew's, Granite City, and probably some version of it at the Cursillo closing Eucharist on Sunday afternoon).
  • Did my due diligence on a request for consent to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Montana. Unable to find any red flags, I consented.
  • Lunch at Chick-Fil-A, then a brief personal shopping expedition at Best Buy.
  • Made significantly more progress on the pastoral issue affecting one of our communities about which I cannot yet say anything.
  • Took a phone call from a colleague bishop in another diocese over a recent development that can only be described as "bizarre."
  • Hand-wrote notes to clergy and spouses having nodal events in September.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on today's daily office Old Testament reading, which was a pretty eventful narrative from II Samuel. This happened in the cathedral, after which I offered Evening Prayer, a bit on the early side.
  • Took a phone call from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities. Then more conversation with the Archdeacon.
  • Left at 5pm headed south. Arrived at the Hampton Inn in Columbia two hours later. Took a long walk, grabbed some dinner at a BBQ place, and did some reading. Here because of proximity to Toddhall for my appearance at the Cursillo weekend tomorrow.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thursday (Mary, Queen of Heaven)

  • Morning preliminaries done in time for me to be out the door to another chiropractic appointment by 0735. Back home a little past 0930.
  • Organized tasks for the day, took a couple of phone calls from diocesan clergy, did the crossword, got cleaned up.
  • Reviewed the draft minutes of the August Diocesan Council meeting sent to me by the Secretary. Suggested a typo correction.
  • Began the process of reviewing Mission Strategy Reports from the Eucharistic Communities.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Dealt with some details pertaining to a couple of upcoming ordinations to the priesthood.
  • Moved the ball considerably down the field toward the clarification and resolution of a significant pastoral issue related to one of our communities. (Sorry about the vagueness; all will be revealed in due course.)
  • Continued to an organic stopping point with the Mission Strategy Reports.
  • Goosed the conversation along with the board chair of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, looping in the Archdeacon and the Dean, looking toward the cathedral hosting the Annual Mass & Luncheon in January.
  • Read a progress report from the Communications Coordinator about her work with Breeze, the database program we are currently using. Then I played around in the system a while. This is a HUGE step. For the first time ... ever ... after literally years and years of trying, I feel like we are on top of this quest. We may be arriving late to the 21st century, but it feels good.
  • Dealt by email with an ongoing clergy discipline issue.
  • Caught up on some sandbagged internet reading (the Covenant blog, mostly).
  • Domestic complications caused EP to fall through the cracks tonight.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Responded to an email from the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities that will soon be in transition. Trying to set a time for an initial vacancy consultation.
  • Took care of some bits of administrative business toward the end of being able to set ordination dates for our two transitional deacons, and making sure someone who has been nominated for postulancy will get in front of the Commission on Ministry.
  • Turned my attention to a rather substantial administrative issue and sent the results of my work off to those who will know whether I did an adequate job.
  • Read another big chunk of Dignity, the book I'm committed to reviewing for The Living Church. Almost done with it.
  • Drove to one of the local parish churches for an appointment with a priest who has expressed in interest in exploring the vacancies that we have in the diocese.
  • Lunched (a bit late) at home on leftovers.
  • Had a substantive phone conversation with the bishop of another diocese over an issue that has an impact on us here in Springfield.
  • Spent a big chunk of quality time with commentaries on St Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus on September 29 at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Responded in a more-substantive-than-usual way to a message from the Bishop of Tabora.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tuesday (St Bernard)

  • Prayers, tea, breakfast, and crossword in the usual fashion. Then out at 0735 for a chiropractic appointment at 0800. 
  • Back around 0915. Got cleaned up. Planned tasks for the day.
  • Took a phone call from one of the clergy of the diocese.
  • Stepped out to take Brenda to a 1030 acupuncture appointment. Picked up some Italian beef sandwiches from Al's Beef on the way home. They make the absolute best. Ate in front of an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Yes, I can have pretty trashy taste in TV at times.
  • Composed and sent a substantive email to a colleague bishop about a rather sensitive and complex issue about which I can presently say nothing specific.
  • Took care of a fairly small duty in connection with my role as board secretary of the Living Church Foundation.
  • Dealt at considerable length with an emerging pastoral issue in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Took care of a loose end related to my registration for next month's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Emailed the presenter for our November clergy conference with an eye toward fostering the process of content development.
  • Extended some pastoral care by phone to a cleric from outside the diocese.
  • Because of some recent changes to my weekend schedule in September, I had to revisit some preaching prep plans. This involved identifying a couple of old texts that can be reworked.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Lord's Day (X Pentecost)

Presided and preached both morning liturgies at St Andrew's, Edwardsville, which was an extraordinary visitation in view of the recent sudden and unexpected departure of the still-new rector last month (made possible by the fact that services at St Mary's, Robinson are on Saturday evenings for the time being). After coffee hour, I spent some time with a combined meeting of the MLT and Search Committee taking stock of their situation and roughing out some plans. Began the drive home about 12:45, and it took me all of six hours to get there, owing to two cars catching on fire in the middle of a bridge across the Illinois River, about a huindred yards in front of me, which necessitated a bunch of traffic being rerouted. 

Sermon for Proper 15

St Mary’s, Robinson; St Andrew’s, Edwardsville--Hebrews 12:1-14 ,  Luke 12:49-56

Our attention was riveted in horror earlier this month by a series of mass shootings in quick succession—in California, Texas, and Ohio. On the same weekend that two of those events happened, there were several independent gun violence incidents just in the city of Chicago, and seven people were killed. My only point in bringing that up is that, in the words of Gilda Radner’s Saturday Night Live character from the 1970s, “It’s always something.” We are indeed regularly faced with the reality that “it’s always something.” If it’s not violence caused by human beings, it’s violence caused by nature: earthquakes, fires, floods, and storms are simply a ubiquitous part of human experience. Plane crashes, computer viruses, internet hacks, and industrial accidents will just happen. The same goes for organized crime, cancer, and flesh-eating bacteria. Even when people aren’t getting shot, drugs still get sold to school children, alcoholics who decide to drink will still drink, husbands and wives and children will still quarrel with one another, the demand for divorce lawyers will not suddenly disappear, people will still hurt and deceive and betray each other, and psychotherapists will still be able to fill their appointment calendars. In short, suffering will continue to be a part of human experience, just as it has always been since the fruit got eaten     from that tree in the middle of the garden.

And since suffering is all around us, whether it’s a stubbed toe or a broken heart, it’s often tempting for us to conclude that it is therefore meaningless, random, without purpose or any redeeming value. It’s purely the laws of physics and the laws of statistics that determine which golfers get a hole-in one and which ones get killed by a lightning bolt on the green. There’s no more meaning to it than that. The best we can do in the face of such a reality to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip.

If we don’t have that much strength of character, then we simply fall victim to cynicism and despair. This can take the form of profound depression, leading ultimately to suicide. Perhaps you have experienced this, either personally or through somebody whom you love. Or, more frequently, despair can take the form of “let it all hang out” licentiousness. We’re all going to suffer and die anyway, so let’s enjoy as many of the sensory pleasures of this world as we can while we can. What difference does it make? If you don’t see yourself as the depressed and suicidal type, then maybe you have a place among the party animals—let the good times roll and keep them rolling like there’s no tomorrow because  … maybe there’s not!

Now, the reason we are all here at this moment doing what we’re doing, is that some part of us, at least, believes or hopes or suspects or wishes … that there’s another alternative. I know that’s why I’m here. Most of the time, I’m in the category of believing. There are days, however, when I am among those who can only hope or suspect or wish.

But, in any case, I have pretty well staked my life on the notion that God is in the business of providing meaning and purpose for events and experiences that seem meaningless to me, and without any redeeming value or purpose. I have bet all my chips on the hope that God is a God who redeems, who hates the thought of losing any part of his creation to the forces of evil. If I am a prisoner in this world of child abuse, human trafficking, forest fires, and serial killers, then my hope is that God’s philosophy of prison management is one of rehabilitating the offenders, in which company I number myself, rather than punishment for its own sake. When I have my rational wits about me, when I pay attention to the clues God has left about himself—in nature, in the pages of scripture, in the tradition and teaching of the church—then my confidence in the wisdom of my cosmic bet, my grand wager, that on which I have staked everything—my confidence is bolstered.

In everything that God actually tells us about himself, he is revealed as a God whose purposes are always oriented and ordered toward redemption. This includes the debris of human suffering left in the wake of mass shooters, wife beaters, child rapists, drunk drivers, con artists, identity thieves, genocidal maniacs, arms dealers, dope pushers, “frank exchanges” between ambassadors, corporate mergers, stock market crashes, plant closures, crop failures, boring teachers, stupid bosses, inattentive spouses, and bad hair days. God wants to redeem it all. None of it is devoid of meaning. All of it is ordered toward the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

Now hear me well here: I do not believe God ever wills or sends suffering. God’s not sitting up in heaven at some master control board pushing a button labeled “smite” whenever he gets the inkling. In his wisdom, however—which does not always, or often, make sense to me—in his wisdom God has chosen to allow evil to exist in the universe. And since it’s there, he finds ways to use it creatively to the advantage of his purposes.

In the classic Asian martial arts, one is taught to defend oneself, not by directly resisting the movements of the attacker, but by cooperating with them. The aggressor’s own moves are co-opted by the defender and ultimately become the aggressor’s own undoing. That’s the way God redeems suffering. He does not conjure it, but he employs it for his own righteous and loving purposes. When we’re on the receiving end of such righteous and loving strategy, of course, it often seems like we are being punished. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews likens this to the way good parents discipline their children. Real discipline, of course, operates from love, and no other motive. Otherwise, it’s just sadistic. When love is present, however, parental discipline can serve a fruitful end. It instills a knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, builds integrity, and strengthens character.

And when there is no discipline, one suspects that there is a corresponding lack of love. When I was a child, I rolled my eyes whenever I heard the cliché, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” But when I became a parent, I realized—it’s true. Many of my failures as a parent arose from not being willing enough to face the pain of being the one to hand out discipline. Surely God is heartbroken, as well, when he exploits suffering—suffering that was going to happen anyway, I should add—when God exploits suffering as a means of discipline. And when we’re experiencing such discipline, we need to remember that we are not necessarily being punished for something we have done wrong. This side of eternity, we might not ever know the purpose of the pain we are required to endure.

Then again, with some prayer and discernment, we may be able to learn something of that purpose. St Luke’s gospel records for us a talk Jesus had with his listeners about how one particular kind of suffering would be a natural consequence of the decision to become his disciple--the suffering that attends alienation from family members. Many of you have been a party to, or been otherwise close to, a marriage that is “mixed” with respect to religion. Christians often marry Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or agnostics or atheists or some other brand of Christian, or someone of the same denomination who just believes less intensely or more intensely. I don’t particularly recommend such marriages—St Paul himself says, “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers”—but they happen. Sometimes the religious disparity appears after the    marriage is several years old, and the partners in that marriage experience something of what Jesus was talking about, which is a very personal and often quiet kind of suffering when two people who are supposed to enjoy intimacy find they are at odds in their core values. Of course, this, too, is suffering that God can employ for his purposes. But Jesus goes on to chide his audience about how adept they are at predicting the weather by looking at the sky, but are unable to discern the will and purpose of God by the signs he provides in the experiences of their lives. So when we we’re on the receiving end of what might be disciplinary suffering, it’s probably a good idea to ask some questions:

         “How can God use this?”
         “What special grace might there be in it for me?”
         “Is there an opportunity here for me to grow in faith and hope and charity?”
         “What is God trying to get my attention about?”
         “Is there some area of my life that I am holding back from God?”
         “Is there a pet sin—even a little one—that I really know about but have been unwilling to own up to?”

If we ask ourselves these questions, we may be led to the answers. What a blessing that is! Then again, they may go completely unanswered. That’s a blessing too. At least it helps us learn trust and patience! And we’re getting the kind of practice in reading the signs of the times that Jesus commends so strongly. Inch by inch, step by step, irritation by irritation, heartbreak by heartbreak—even, at times, tragedy by tragedy—real change takes place in our souls. We are being made holy. Christ is being formed in us. We are being conformed to the image of Christ, which is the image of triumph through suffering, light through darkness, strength through weakness, victory through surrender, and life through death.

And whatever we have to endure, it’s worth it, because we are being made worthy to wear the victor’s crown. And while we are yet running the race, we are cheered on from the celestial grandstands—what a picture the letter to the Hebrews paints for us!—we are cheered from the grandstands by a “cloud of witnesses”: saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs who testify to God’s enduring and great faithfulness. So give him the glory, and keep on running.

Amen.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday

Today was pedal-to-the-metal from beginning to end (and I do mean that metaphorically, even though I did a prodigious amount of driving).
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Breakfast from McD's, eaten in the car.
  • Made liturgical/homiletical preparations for the Diocesan Council Mass.
  • Got my office encampment securely packed up, with appropriate items loaded in the car.
  • Presided and preached at the Mass (10am).
  • Presided at the regular August meeting of the Diocesan Council. Discussion was rather livelier than usual at times, but I think we got an important snag sorted out. 
  • Met with a priest of the dioceses to discuss some discernment issues in significant detail.
  • Took an unscheduled meeting with another priest over a vexing pastoral issue. I had to cut it a little short, owing to my need to be on the road in a timely manner.
  • Headed out of town at 2:30, stopping for gas and a drive-through burger on South Grand Avenue.
  • Arrived at St Mary's, Robinson around 5:10, ahead of their scheduled 5:30 liturgy. Presided and preached. St Mary's is in a pastoral hiatus, but they are under the able leadership of Senior Warden Mike Clark.
  • Enjoyed some dinner and conversation in the parish hall following the liturgy. Then got back on the road westward around 7:15, arriving at the Hampton Inn in Glen Carbon around 9:40.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday

  • Up and out and across the alley to the cathedral for intercessions and Morning Prayer at 0735. Then breakfast at Hardee's.
  • Long wide-ranging catchup conversation with the Archdeacon, consuming most of the morning.
  • Made hotel reservations, belatedly, for the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis next month. Somehow, the original email didn't find its way into my inbox when it was sent.
  • Stepped out at 11:30 for an early lunch at Chick-Fil-A, ahead of a 12:15 appointment at the blood bank. Unfortunately, my hemoglobin was a bit on the low side, so they didn't allow me to donate. Not quite sure what went wrong.
  • Back at the office, then, I had a bit of a wrestling match with Microsoft Excel, which I need to use for a little project I'm working on. When you don't use something very often ...
  • Between 2:00 and 4:00, I was tutoring an individual in the ordination process who already has a great deal of theological education. The one area where he needs some filling out is in applied pastoral liturgy, and I figure me may just as well learn to do it right from the get-go, so I'm teaching him myself!
  • More conversation with the Archdeacon.
  • As a prayer practice, sat down at the cathedral organ and contemplatively played through some hymns from the Hymnal 1940. Then prayed the evening office.
  • Dinner at the Pasta Company, then a small bit of personal shopping.
  • Walked for the better part of an hour, getting me to and over my 10,000 step goal.
  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily (tomorrow night in Robinson and Sunday morning in Edwardsville).

Thursday, August 15, 2019

St Mary the Virgin

  • Customary early AM weekday workday routine.
  • Out the door at 0735 for my 0800 appointment at the chiropractor. (The occasion includes chiropractic adjustment, rehab exercise, and massage therapy). Back home at 0930.
  • Organized my tasks, visited with our daughter for a bit, got cleaned up.
  • Spoke to an advice nurse by phone about a lightly mysterious sore throat.
  • Substantive phone conversation with a priest from outside the diocese about the feasibility of his serving in the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Lunch from Subway, eaten at home.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese on a pastoral concern.
  • Ran a quick errand to the nearby Walgreens.
  • Yet another substantive phone conversation with a priest from outside about potential deployment within.
  • Made an initial homiletical drive-by of the readings for Proper 21, in preparation for preaching at St Stephen's, Harrisburg on September 29,
  • Reviewed and responded to a request for a marital judgment.
  • Composed and sent a carefully-worded email to the Presiding Bishop's canon about a sensitive canonical issue. (Ultimately, it concerns clergy deployment.) This precipitated a phone call from him, getting us pointed in a helpful direction.
  • Knocked back another section of the book Dignity (Chris Arnade), which I am reading to review.
  • Attended to packing and getting dinner made.
  • On the road for Springfield at 7:25. Arrived at 10:50. Settled in at my office encampment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday (Jonathan Myrick Daniels)

  • Customary weekday early AM working routine.
  • Continued substantive pastoral correspondence with a layperson of the diocese over discernment issues.
  • Carefully attended to some pragmatic details of a clergy discipline situation.
  • Took care of a brief administrative detail.
  • Developed my homiletical notes on Proper 16 (St Bartholomew's, Granite City) into a rough draft.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Reviewed the résumé and cover letter of a priest from outside the diocese with an eye toward potential deployment with us.
  • Continued my focus on deployment issues with a detailed inquiry to the Archdeacon and Chancellor.
  • Bit off another large chunk of the book I'm reviewing foe The Living Church. This chapter had a good bit to do with the community of Cairo, part of the diocese, so it was of particular interest to me. I'm about three-quarters of the way through the volume now.
  • Went online and ordered some shelving units for my basement. The project continues.
  • Attended to a bit of General Convention detritus (digesting a message from a Task Force on liturgical revision, and informing the Chair that we will not likely be forming a diocesan version of said task force (per resolution A068), since, for the most part, we remain quite content with BCP'79.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tuesday (Jeremy Taylor)

  • Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, social media cruising, crossword, task planning, shower.
  • Took care of a small accounting matter with the Diocesan Administrator via email.
  • Engaged the Communications Coordinator over her evolving plans for the Springfield Current.
  • Corresponded by email with three potential candidates for the four impending diocesan clergy vacancies.
  • Ran an errand to a nearby Staples for inkjet printer cartridges. They always seem to run low at the most inopportune times.
  • Executed some forms at the behest of my tax preparer.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest from outside the diocese on a potential clergy disciplinary matter.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Consulted via email with the Chancellor and the Archdeacon over (another) clergy disciplinary matter.
  • Put some more finishing touches on my draft pastoral teaching document and sent it out to some friends and colleagues for peer review and critique.
  • Read another in the collection of catechetical tracts recently made available by the Living Church Foundation. I'm digesting the series in preparation for commending it thoughtfully to the clergy of the diocese.
  • Sat down to read a substantial chunk of the book I've committed to reviewing for The Living Church.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday

  • Prayers, tea, and breakfast per usual.
  • Took a long and vigorous walk while the cool of the morning still endured.
  • Got cleaned up and planned tasks for the day.
  • Took care of another income tax detail and puttered around a bit getting the apartment ready for some weekend guests (Brenda's college roommate and her husband).
  • Dealt with some communication and clergy deployment issues.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Dealt via a chain of email exchanges with a sensitive pastoral-administrative matter.,
  • More clergy deployment issues.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Made travel arrangements for my next DEPO visitation to Trinity, Yazoo City, MS. Turns out Amtrak will work really well.
  • Welcomed our friends who drove up from Tennessee and spent the evening with them.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thursday (St Dominic)

  • Up for prayers, tea, and a breakfast muffin before briskly walking the one-plus miles to my 0800 chiropractic appointment.
  • Back home around 0900. Worked the crossword, planned tasks for the day, showered, and got laundry started.
  • Sent a brief email to my tax preparer with a couple of questions.
  • Email exchange with the rector of my DEPO parish, We need to reschedule my visitation.
  • Substantive phone conversation with the senior warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities that is facing a pastoral vacancy.
  • Engaged in a bit of internet pastoral care, responding to a long email from a lay communicant of the diocese with another longish email of my own.
  • Lunched at home on leftovers.
  • More significant progress on my pastoral teaching document.
  • Developed my homiletical message statement for Proper 16 (St Bartholomew's, Granite City) into an outline that I can further develop into a draft text next week.
  • Did a major chunk of reading in the book I've promised to review for The Living Church.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday (John Mason Neale)

I guess there have to be days like this from time to time. It must be in the Law of the Medes and the Persians. Or something. The first half was actually pretty good. I prayed, I had tea and breakfast, and I did the crossword in a reasonable time. I had significant email interactions with the Communications Coordinator. I gathered the documents I would need to renew my driver's license (stay tuned) and mentally mapped out a homily for the Mass I was scheduled to celebrate at noon at the Church of the Ascension. I sent an email to the priest of my DEPO parish, where I am scheduled to visit in a week's time.

At 1115, Brenda and I were out the door to Ascension, where we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration a day late, and it all went splendidly well. We then hopped on the CTA Red Line train to downtown, since my notice from the Secretary of State's office said I qualify for an "Express Service" location, and it was a straight shot. Got there only to find out that they don't do federal standard "Real ID"-quality licenses at that location, which I kind of what I need, since I fly a fair amount. But there was another location at the Thompson Center about three blocks away, so we hoofed it over there. It's not very well marked, but we finally discovered where the license facility is located. But when I finally got to the window, all organized and confident, I discovered that I lacked on the two necessary documents to prove that I actually live where I live. One of the papers that I brought with me was a medical bill. Not accepted. Had it been a healthcare Explanation of Benefits, it would have been accepted, but ... not a bill. And never mind that the very piece of paper that they day mailed me with all the wonderful but inaccurate information had been delivered to where I indeed live, and I had it with me, because ... that doesn't count either. So, there was nothing left to accomplish there. Back up to the street and the subway station, when I discovered that I didn't have my soon-to-expire driver's license. Thinking that I had left it at the counter, we walked back, only to have me discover that I had just misplaced it in the binder I was carrying. Back up and over to the Red Line, stopping at McD's for a repast. Back to the YFNBmobile in the Ascension lot, and back home, having to stop for gas along the way--the first time since moving to Chicago that I've had to actually buy gas in the city, with it's inflated prices.

Home for a brief bit of refreshment, then back out. Since I was already "in uniform," which is how I wanted to appear in the required photo, my mission was to "get 'er done." So we drove west to a license facility about three miles away. Everything went smoothly there, but still slowly. Right when I got back to my car, I got a phone call from my chiropractor's office reminding my, at 4:30, of my 4:00pm appointment. Darn. I hate it when that happens. Now rescheduled for tomorrow morning. Home just before 5:00. I decided to at least symbolically redeem the day by doing the finish work (refining, editing, printing) on this Sunday's homily. Then, Evening Prayer with Brenda, followed by Chinese carryout, since my dinner cooking plan was also a victim of the day's events.  Then, in the evening, I got to review the draft income tax return sent to me by the accountant (yes, we filed for an extension in April). It's not a pretty picture, and doesn't help my disposition.

Tomorrow cannot but be better, right?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Transfiguration

... aaaaaand we're back. Vacation was great. We got some time with family and friends in California and Oregon. Then some lovely beach time on the Florida gulf coast. The "staycation" portion of the time featured some major progress toward basement organization, the chief sign of which is that there are only token amounts of cardboard and packing paper left to be seen. 

As one might imagine, there was a pretty big pile of emails waiting for me when I logged onto my diocesan account this morning. I spent the entire morning and a portion of the afternoon getting caught up on them. Spoke with two parish clergy by phone. Checked another box toward the publication of my pastoral teaching on sexuality and marriage. Did some major cosmetic surgery on a sermon text for Proper 15, in preparation for preaching at St Mary's, Robinson on the evening of the 17th and St Andrew's, Edwardsville on the morning of the 18th. Made an initial dent in reading a book I've promised to review for The Living Church. A pretty good first day back.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday

The day started normally, but I was out the door at 0800 to a chiropractic appointment. Back home a couple of hours later. Dealt with a few late-arriving emails and attended to some diocesan communication matters. Lunched, a but on the early side, on leftovers. Spent the afternoon developing and drafting the final piece of my pastoral teaching on sexuality and marriage. I'm going to let it marinate during my vacation, then vet it with group of trusted critics. Evening Prayer with Brenda.  

 I have one or two small ministry-related chores to take care of tomorrow, but my vacation officially starts on Sunday, so I'm going to sign off in this part of cyberspace for the duration. You can look forward to seeing me reappear on August 6.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wedesday

An eleven-hour day to, at, and from the Episcopal Camp of Illinois, our diocesan summer camp program for children and youth, with uses East Bay Camp, a United Methodist facility on the shorts of Lake Bloomington. Brenda and I visited with the campers during their afternoon swim time, shared a meal (trucked in KFC boxes, still styled the "Bishop's BBQ"), and it was my joyful privilege to preside and preach at a celebration of the Eucharist. It was really fun to spend time around these energetic young people.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tuesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • Out the door at 9:05 for an initial consultation with a chiropractor about lingering pain from a decades-old injury that I have "aged into." First appointment for treatment on the books.
  • Spoke by phone substantively with the senior warden of our Eucharistic Communities that is in transition,.
  • Substantive email correspondence with the Archdeacon (as he returns from his time in Sicily, and I wind down toward my vacation).
  • Spoke by phone with a colleague bishop over a matter of mutual pastoral concern.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Indulged to urge to take a modest nap.
  • Finished filling out the draft of one of the sections of my pastoral teaching document on marriage and sexuality (the Afterword). Now on to the Foreword. Then I'll be able to vet it with some friendly critics before I make it public.
  • Finished drafting my next-due post for the Covenant blog and sent it off to the editor.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner and a walk: Did some cosmetic surgery on an old homily for Proper 14, for use on August 11, when I have a guest gig in a Chicago parish.
  • Read another in the Living Church catechetical pamphlet series.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Lord's Day (III Pentecost)

Up and out of the Doubletree in Mt Vernon to catch a quick breakfast at Bob Evans and then head east on I-64. Arrived at St John the Baptist, Mt Vernon at the targeted 30 minutes before before the regular 1030 celebration of the Eucharist. It was a joy to proclaim the word of God, preside at the Mass, and baptize an adult, which was an unanticipated bonus. I was back in the YFNBmobile at 12:30 and home in Chicago right at 6:00.

Sermon for Proper 8

St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel--1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21, Galatians 5:13-25

There’s a story about a mother who pounded on her son’s bedroom door one Sunday morning:
“Wake up, son. It’s Sunday morning and we need to get ready to go to church.”
“Aw, Mom, let me sleep,” the son replied. “I don’t want to go to church today.”
“I don’t really care whether you want to—you are going to church. So get up!”
“I said I don’t want to go to church. Give me one good reason why I have to go to church.”
“Well, I can give you several good reasons,” said the mother calmly.
“But the most important one is that you’re the Rector and they’re paying you to be there.”

Now, what makes us laugh at this story, of course, is that we might expect such an exchange between a mother and a juvenile child, but not with an adult son. Yet, there are a great many adults who can empathize. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said on one occasion, “If you took all the people who fall asleep in church on Sunday morning and laid them out end to end … they’d be a lot more comfortable.” Now, what might this say about Mr Lincoln’s experience of corporate public worship?

So, let’s face it: Even though about one-third of Americans attend some place of worship on any given weekend, many of them are not having a very good time. Many are there because, if they were not, someone whose opinion of them matters a great deal would think less of them. Many are there because, if there were not, they would feel horribly guilty. Many are there, but feel like hypocrites, because they don’t really believe much of what is said and sung and prayed during the service. And many are there, for whatever reason, but are bored out of their minds, and the end of the service cannot come soon enough for them.

This is certainly no fun for anyone involved, is it? But, at the risk of sounding defensive of my professional turf, I don’t think it’s because church services really are boring or meaningless, although I’m sure some are. Rather, I think some of us experience public worship as boring or meaningless or even stupid because we see it as a thing unto itself, with no relationship to the “real world” of our everyday lives. It’s what we do; we habitually compartmentalize our lives. Business is business and personal is personal and family is family and religion is religion. In the course of a person’s life cycle, each of these items moves up and down on the priority list, and if we live well, we’re able to keep them in some sort of healthy balance. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Yet, this conventional wisdom can get us into some trouble if we’re not careful, because it can lead us to see Christian faith and practice—following Jesus in the community of his church—it can lead us to see Christian faith and practice as something we can do part-time, one more item on our to-do list, one more priority we can juggle against all the others.

In the nineteenth chapter of the first Book of Kings, we find an incident that could serve to confirm us in such an attitude. It’s time for the great prophet Elijah to move on to his heavenly reward, and the Lord instructs him to recruit a younger fellow named Elisha to take his place. Elisha responds, more or less, along the lines of  “I would love to come and be your disciple, Elijah, but I’ve got responsibilities, things I need to take care of first. Can you hold the position for me a little while until I can break free of my obligations?” The older prophet is not wild about this request, but in the end, he grants it.

Jesus, however, appears to be somewhat less flexible than Elijah. Following Jesus is a full-time job. It’s not for the fainthearted or the casual part-timer. For a Christian, discipleship is not just one more priority to be balanced in a healthy way against others, it’s not even the top priority on a long list, it’s the only priority. This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t have families and jobs and money and household projects and vacations. It means that all these other things are placed at the disposal of and integrated into the vocation of Christian discipleship.

In Luke’s gospel we read of two would-be disciples. One is enthusiastic about being called by Jesus—“I will follow you anywhere,” he says—but Jesus perceives that he is naïve, and is entering into discipleship the way the Prayer Book tells us not to enter into marriage—“lightly and unadvisedly.” He’s not taking account of all that will be demanded of him as a follower of Jesus. The other one is willing, but he’s distracted by worldly obligations—“First let me go and bury my father.” Now, that sounds like a perfectly innocent request, and Jesus’ response “Leave the dead to bury their own dead”—sounds a little cold, actually. And if we leave things at this sort of literal level, we’ll just remain perplexed.

But the point should not be lost on us: Christian discipleship is not something we can just work into our schedule. It has to be our schedule if it’s going to mean anything at all or make any sense to us. Jesus wants us to accept him on his own terms, rather than the terms of our assumptions. And when we do so, there is no escaping the fact that he calls each of us—he calls me and he calls you—to costly and demanding discipleship. He calls us to deny ourselves and walk the way of the cross. I won’t kid you—it’s not a stroll in the park. It means learning to act counter-intuitively in a number of different ways. It means surrendering some human impulses that feel pretty natural—and even right and good.

The apostles James and John learned this when they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven on some towns that had treated them badly on a mission trip they had just gotten back from. All Luke tells us is that Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” Revenge—getting even, righting a wrong, getting back for an injustice—this is a basic human instinct. But discipleship demands that we leave it by the side of the road as we take off after Jesus. That’s what St Paul means when he writes the Galatians about putting away the “works of the flesh." And the desire for revenge is just one ready example of the sorts of behavior the world accepts as normal but Christians are called to renounce.

Now let’s go back to that unwelcome Sunday morning wakeup call, and to those millions of sleeping parishioners laid end to end for their comfort at President Lincoln’s request. What are they missing? Why do think the whole thing is guilt-inducing and unbelievable and boring? What they’re missing is that they haven’t said Yes to Jesus’ invitation to follow him as a disciple. They haven’t said Yes to St Paul’s invitation to put away the works of the flesh, to live radically and counterintuitively. As a result, they have just enough religion to make them miserable, but not enough to give them joy.

When we answer those calls, however, we begin to experience religious practice—things like prayer, self-examination, fasting, and stewardship—we begin to find religious practice fulfilling, we begin to experience Christian faith—growing deeper in our knowledge of the things of the Lord—Christian faith becomes an integrating experience, and we begin to experience worship—coming together with fellow disciples every Lord’s Day—we begin to experience worship as endlessly fascinating. The liturgy comes alive, prayer is energized, and relationships in the church community become precious beyond words. It’s as if the lights have come on for the first time ever in a dimly-lit room.

Have you decided to follow Jesus?

Amen.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ss Peter & Paul

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Walked the 2.2 miles down to Charlie Parker's for breakfast, then walked back to the office. By the time I got back and did my delayed morning ablutions, it was the better part of 11am.
  • Exercised my monthly privilege of writing personal greetings to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries during the coming calendar month (so, July in this case). Did this via a combination of handwriting and scheduled email.
  • Stepped out, around 1pm, for lunch at Chick-Fil-A and some personal shopping at Meijer and Food Fantasies.
  • Routine periodic personal maintenance: Cleaning up my computer desktop (the digital equivalent of filing accumulated items on a physical desktop).
  • Read another in the catechetical pamphlet series from the Living Church Foundation.
  • Processed my physical inbox and other items on my physical desktop, mostly by scanning and tossing.
  • Got packed up and ready to go. Read Evening Prayer in the office, then hit the road southbound at 5:55.
  • Arrived at the Doubletree in Mt Vernon around 8:10. Checked into my room, then had dinner at their in-house restaurant.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Saturday (St Iranaeus)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Breakfast from Hardee's.
  • Dealt with two requests for consent for the consecration of bishops-elect. One was a quick and easy decision. The other invited me to do some due-diligence internet sleuthing. I ended up consenting to one and not consenting to the other.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday, at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel.
  • Started in on a handful of smallish administrative/pastoral items. 
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten in the office.
  • Wrapped up some of the loose ends of what I was working on before lunch.
  • Met for two-plus hours with a group of clergy for another session of mystagogy, using the propers for this Sunday as the basis for our reflections. It was another rich time. I am holding in prayer how this practice might be more deeply embedded in the diocese.
  • Met privately on some other matters with one of these priests--a "ten-minute" conversation stretching to nearly an hour. You know how it goes.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Fried catfish from Carter's Fish Market. Then a nice walk in the final hour of daylight around downtown.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday (Our Lady of Perpetual Help)

  • Usual early AM routine, except I got waylaid longer than usual by a Facebook comment thread and an ensuing private message exchange. One of these days I will learn.
  • Got laundry started, and came back to it as need throughout the day. Got waylaid again, this time by an unexpected domestic project (detritus from my basement organizing efforts). Sometimes my home situation requires me to be flexible and strike while an iron is hot. Anyway, it took most of the rest of the morning.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Prepared for a conference call with U.S. Trust about the Putnam Trust by reading their emailed handout.
  • Took care of an array of business with our Communications Coordinator, via several emails.
  • Joined the above-mentioned conference call. (The Putnam Trust significantly benefits two of our Eucharistic Communities, and the Bishop of Springfield is co-trustee, along with the Bank of America. The conversation was with U.S. Trust, a B of A subsidiary, which handles the investments.)
  • The rest of the afternoon was consumed by tasks related to getting ready to head into the diocese for the weekend, with a therapy appointment thrown in just to complicate things.
  • I hit the road southbound at 7:15, and traffic was thick getting out of the city, so it was not one of the better trips, taking four hours to get to Springfield.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual early AM routine.
  • Attended via email to a brief administrative chore.
  • Looked over and filed away for later review a Mission Strategy Report from one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Looked over the readings and mentally roughed out a homily for the Mass I agreed to preside at and preach for midday at the Church of the Ascension.
  • Moved the ball several years down the field in preparing to preach on the Sunday of Proper 16 (August 17, a Saturday evening, at St Mary's, Robinson).
  • Headed down to Ascension with Brenda. Celebrated and preached for a congregation of thirteen. Took Brenda to lunch at a nearby barbecue restaurant.
  • Except for a phone conversation with one of our parish clergy, devoted the rest of the afternoon to the marriage and sexuality teaching document. I aim to get this one as close to right as possible.
  • Evening Prayer alone, as Nana was upstairs with Hattie.

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.