Sunday, January 13, 2019

First Sunday after the Epiphany

My visitation today just involved crossing the alley between my encampment in the diocesan office and the cathedral church. Preached at 0800, presided and preached at 1000, with two confirmations. Had enough time between services for the biscuits & gravy I missed yesterday at Charlie Parker's. While the cathedral parking lot was well plowed and de-iced, not all the areas of the city and suburbs were in similar condition, so attendance was very thin. After visiting at the coffee hour, changing clothes, and getting fully packed, it was 1:00 before I hit the road northbound. With stops for lunch and gas, I pulled into my Chicago garage just before 5:00. 

Sermon for Epiphany I

Springfield Cathedral--Luke 3:15-16, 21-22; Isaiah 42:1-9

For most my life since I was in my late teens, I’ve kept a journal of sorts. Sometimes it’s just some sketchy notes on a page when my calendar took the form of a large three-ring binder: I went here, I did that, I spoke to this or that person. At other times, I’ve written long reflections on what’s going on in my life, or in the church, or in the world. One of my annual rituals, usually on New Year’s Day, is to skim over, and occasionally do more than skim, whatever I wrote a year ago, five years ago, ten, twenty, and now, even fifty years ago.

I am quite frequently awed by my own life. My ministry, both as a priest and as a bishop, has put me in touch with the entire range of human need, from the trivial to the profound. And as if the human need that I actually have to face personally weren’t enough, my ministry as Bishop of Springfield puts me behind the wheel of a car for several hours each week, and while I’m cruising the highways of central and southern Illinois, I often listen to talk radio. More human need, in the news, and in the call-in programs. I sometimes have the sense of the whole world being one big need, one big problem, one big bottomless-pit demand.

The world is indeed a needy place; human need abounds. There is hunger, there is pain, there is poverty, there is grief, there is captivity and tyranny, there is addiction, there is loneliness, there is guilt, and as if all this weren't enough, there is death. So most of us will look for hope, for the plausible possibility of meeting these abundant needs, wherever, and in whomever, we think we might find it. If we're hungry, we hope for the one who will feed us. If we're in pain, we hope for the one who will bring relief. If we're held captive, we hope for the one who will set us free. If we're poor, we hope for plenty. If we're lonely, we hope for companionship. If we're guilty, we hope for forgiveness, and if we're surrounded by or facing death, we hope for life.

But very often, we're disappointed in our search for hope. We find someone or something that might meet one of the items on  our list of needs, but instead of being grateful, we become angry and resentful that this person or thing can't meet all of our needs. Who and what are these "stopgap saviors" that disappoint us?  The list is a long one, and includes spouses, children, this parish—or any parish, a twelve-step program, a therapist—or therapy in general, a form of prayer, a priest, an author, a politician, a career, or a beautiful body. It's kind of silly to be angry with one or more of these for not being able to meet all our needs—it's like being angry with a cat for not being able to bark!—but we do it anyway.

The people of the Old Covenant, the nation of Israel, were a people of hope. They shared each and every one of these human needs that we've just catalogued, and they hoped for one who would meet those needs. Over the centuries, over times of hunger and captivity and guilt, they were promised, through the words of the prophets, just such a deliverer, just such a hope bringer. At times, this savior, this object of hope, was characterized as a servant of God who would suffer on behalf of God's people. Isaiah writes:
Behold, my servant, in whom my soul delights ... He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the         street; a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly-burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
At other times, the hope-bringer is characterized as a king, as an anointed one, or, in Hebrew, a messiah. Isaiah also writes:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
This suffering servant, this messiah-king, became the figure in whom all the hopes and aspirations of Israel were focused. The Greek word for messiah is Christ, and as Christ-ians, followers of Christ, we have a conviction about who the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed-One of God, is—namely, Jesus. The feast that we keep today, the feast of the baptism of the Christ, the baptism of Jesus, reveals Jesus as the one promised by Isaiah and the other prophets, the one who embodies and shows forth the hope, not   only of the people of Israel, but of “the nations,” the “goyim,” us!— all people, in every place and in every time.

In each of the four gospels, the account of this incident marks the beginning of Jesus's public ministry. Before this moment, he was, if you will, a “private citizen,” Jesus the carpenter's son. After this moment, he is very much a public figure: teaching, healing, and planting the seeds of the community that would spring to life following his death, resurrection, and ascension. In the eastern church, it is the baptism of Christ, not the coming of the Wise Men, that is the primary symbol of his epiphany, his showing forth, his manifestation, his revelation. More accurately, it's not the actual baptism that is the epiphany, but what immediately followed: the heavens were parted, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father gave his seal of approval on the whole occasion: "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased."

In this wonderful moment, all signs point to Jesus.  Earlier, John the Baptist had been asked if he were the Messiah, and he quickly set the record straight:  "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." John points to Jesus and says, "He's the one, the Anointed One of God who will establish justice and righteousness and forgive the sins of those who are penitent.” The voice of God the Father points to Jesus and says, "He's the one, the one in whom I show you myself, the one through whom you can share my very life." The Holy Spirit not only points to Jesus but almost lands on him and says, "He's the one, the one who will proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to those who are held captive." Jesus is in the center of the picture, pointed out, recognized, designated, revealed ... as the one in whom all the deepest hopes of humankind are gathered, or, in the words of the German chorale, "Jesu, joy of man's desiring".

I hesitate to try and illustrate by historical example what was going on at this moment, because anything I can think of seems utterly lame by comparison, but this is such a substantial landmark, such an important element in the pictorial vocabulary of our faith, that I want you to really grasp it. So, on a much less cosmic scale, and this is something that’s just beyond the living memory of even the oldest members of this congregation, but most everybody here at least knew somebody who remembered it well—it's like Franklin Roosevelt taking the oath of office in 1933, gathering into himself, representing, the deepest hopes of Americans who were being crushed by the Great Depression. On an even less cosmic scale, it's like a university athletic director calling a press conference to introduce a new head football or basketball coach, and saying, "This is the one on whom our hopes for a winning season are fastened."

If we can open our eyes to see this picture of time and space transcended, of heaven and earth momentarily joined, we can face the neediness of the world, the neediness of our own lives, not with panic, not with desperation, not with despair, but with authentic, deep, and abiding hope, because we see the one who alone is worthy of our hope.

Several years ago, in the realm of pop psychology, there was a technique called the “relaxation response.” It was said that, by assuming the right physical position, and engaging in the right mental exercises, we could make relaxation a learned, conditioned response.  I tried it and it worked—for me, at least—and I still use it from time to time. I would like to think that, as the relaxation response provides a shot of stress relief, the picture of Jesus at his baptism, being pointed to and designated as the focus of our hope, can provide a shot of faith; that to conjure in our mind's eye the picture of Jesus standing waist-deep in the water, with an wild-eyed John the Baptist looking on, with heavenly light emanating from a hole in the sky, and a dove gently descending toward Jesus, can provide us with the moment-to-moment spiritual lift that we need to walk the road that God puts us on.

The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him.

Amen.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday (St Aelred)

Woke up to the promised snowfall--about five inches at the time, I would say, with more coming down. Got myself put together and trudged across the alley for Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Then ventured out by car to hunt for some breakfast. In my AWD vehicle, the streets were not a problem, but there was evidence that others were not so lucky. Charlie Parker's, my biscuits & gravy place, may have been open--their lot was plowed--but there were no cars, so I assumed the worst and moved on to IHOP way out on West Wabash. By the time I got back to the office, and shoveled a bit of snow around the garage door and between the office and the cathedral atrium, it was mid-morning, which I devoted the rest of to the finish work on my homily for tomorrow at the cathedral. Then it was down to McD's for a snack-lunch. At 1:30, I participated in a meeting with three of our priests that was supposed to be in-person but morphed into a video conference because of the snow. We got done what needed to get done in about an hour. I attempted a walk, but the sidewalks are generally just too impassible. Opened a sermon file (prayed, clipped the readings into a document, made initial notes) on Epiphany VI (St Thomas', Glen Carbon). Dealt by email with some Province V issues. Got another chunk of work done on my pastoral teaching on marriage document. Evening Prayer, a bit on the late side, in the cathedral. Dinner out a Longhorn, followed by a brief bit of shopping at HyVee.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday

  • Up and out of my office encampment in time to offer Morning Prayer in the cathedral at 0730. Then on to McD's to pick up some breakfast and have a phone conversation with Brenda.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Got my tasks for the day organized, which took longer than usual because of an inordinately large onslaught of recent emails.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on a canonical issue.
  • Had a brief but substantial conversation with the Archdeacon and the Administrator on sharpening our data backup and archiving protocols. This will never be an urgent issue (unless a tornado makes a direct hit on our virtually indestructible building), but it is nonetheless important. 
  • Dealt by email with some suddenly emergent Communion Partner business.
  • Worked with Paige to develop a Plan B for an important meeting scheduled for tomorrow, since several inches of snow are predicted. We'll try a video conferencing solution.
  • Resumed working on master sermon planning for Lent through Trinity Sunday.
  • Lunch from KFC, then down to the Mazda dealer to have them deal with the tire pressure warning light that was on.
  • Back to the sermon plotting work, with several email interruptions. This basically took the rest of the afternoon, apart from ...
  • ... a vigorous walk west to Walnut, north to Carpenter, east to Ninth, south to Lawrence, and back over. Synergized by doing en route an Ignatian meditation on the gospel reading from the daily office lectionary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday (William Laud)

  • Customary weekday early AM routine.
  • Hunkered down with commentaries and did the exegetical work on the readings for Epiphany V (Holy Trinity, Danville).
  • Reached out by email over a couple of pastoral/admin issues.
  • Wrestled with my notes on the readings for Epiphany IV (Christ the King, Normal) and arrived at a homiletical message statement,.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Began working on master sermon prep planning for the period between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday,
  • Took Brenda to a healthcare appointment.
  • Took a 75-minute power walk (the "power" part necessary to generate some body heat on a very cold day).
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • Order-in Thai food for dinner. Then packed at hit the road southbound at 7:15. Arrived at the diocesan center in Springfield for my weekend deployment at 10:30.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday

  • Early Morning Prayer in the domestic oratory. Made tea and breakfast. Planned the day's work. Did the crossword. Got showered and dressed.
  • Responded to a request for an appointment, made a step of progress toward an annual review regimen for YFNB, responded to a late-arriving but time-sensitive email.
  • Did some appropriate surgery on a "vintage" sermon text for Epiphany I, toward delivering a version of it this Sunday at the cathedral.
  • Took a phone call from the President of the Standing Committee.
  • Digested an email and attached newsletter from our representative to the Province V ECW board.
  • Responded by long-ish and substantive email to an emerging pastoral issue in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Carry-out lunch from the Chinese place around the corner.
  • Took a brisk 70-minute walk on a brisk day in the Windy City. 
  • Performed a similar homiletical task as my morning activity, this time on a text for Epiphany II, to be delivered at Christ Church, Springfield.
  • Worked some more on the exorcism liturgy project.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda in the oratory.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tuesday

In view of having spent my regular personal sabbath day traveling, I had to devote today mostly to personal chores and errands. I say "mostly" because I did do some substantial prep work for next month's clergy retreat. My overall productivity was significantly hampered by a really bad case of hay fever-like allergy symptoms, although it isn't the time of year for that sort of thing. Feeling a bit better as bedtime approaches.

Monday

Breakfast with my hosts in Greenville, SC, then on the Christ Church to get read for the 1100 requiem for Bishop Hulstrand. I assisted with Holy Communion and gave the Commendation. It was a lovely service, and I was honored to be part of it. Then I took my old parishioner out to lunch before she showed me around downtown Greenville and we headed to the airport for my 5:30pm flight back to Chicago. I arrived home around 7:30.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany

Left my basecamp at the diocesan center at 0700 and arrived at Trinity, Jacksonville in time to preach for the 0800 celebration and preside and preach at 1000. There's a good spirit at Trinity under the pastoral leadership of Fr Zach Brooks. Around noon I hit the road northbound and arrived in my Chicago home at 3:45. Had time to unpack, repack, and rest a bit before calling a Lyft to pick me up at 6:45 and take me to the Jefferson Park blue line station, where I caught a train to O'Hare, then boarded a 9:00 departure for Greenville, South Carolina. I was met a little past midnight local time by an old parishioner from my California sojourn, who now lives in Greenville and sings in the choir at Christ Church, venue for Bishop Hultstrand's funeral. She and her husband graciously gave me lodging for the night.

Sermon for Epiphany

Trinity, Jacksonville--Matthew 2:1-12, Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany. Wise Men. Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Camels, oxen, sheep, shepherds, angels. It evokes a memory of any number of children’s Christmas pageants, and it’s precisely the tableau that I bet is on more than one of the Christmas cards that you haven’t gotten around to throwing out yet … or perhaps you’ve been waiting for today, for Epiphany, to toss your 2018 Christmas cards around the same time you undecorate your tree and restore your home to its pre-holiday configuration. (That will be my job on Tuesday, as tomorrow I have to be at the funeral of my predecessor once-removed, Bishop Hultstrand).  Of course, any scene that includes both the shepherds and the Wise Men is taking some liberties, because Luke talks about the shepherds and Matthew tells us about the Wise Men, but no biblical text ever puts them in the same place at the same time. Just don’t tell the greeting card industry.

Sadly, though, that’s where we tend to get stuck: at the manger with baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary and St Joseph and the Wise Men and the shepherds and any number of four-footed creatures of various sorts, with the angels just having finished their singing. And, while it’s a beautiful scene, it’s not a very good place to linger. It’s not a fruitful place to hang around. It’s just a Christmas card image, and that’s it. It’s flat, two-dimensional. There’s no substance, nothing deep, nothing revealing.

Ah, revealing. That’s the actual meaning of the word “epiphany”—a revelation, a demonstration, exhibition, showing forth, a manifestation, to use our traditional Anglican language. An epiphany reveals. It makes known something that was previously unknown, previously a secret, previously a mystery. To understand Epiphany, we need to allow ourselves to think, not literally, but symbolically. What mystery does the two-dimensional but comfortably familiar Christmas card tableau lead us or call us into? What’s the “deeper place” that we are invited to explore?

Precisely this: The encounter between the Wise Men and the infant Jesus symbolizes the foundation of Christian mission. If you happen to serve here at Trinity on what is customarily referred to among Episcopalians as the Vestry, you probably know that, in the canons of the Diocese of Springfield, we have adopted the term Mission Leadership Team. I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of why we did that here, except to make the further observation that members of the Mission Leadership Team, aka Vestry, are no doubt aware that one of its duties is to annually prepare and submit a document called a Mission Strategy Report, which lays out a definite plan for, in this case, Trinity Church in Jacksonville, to take its share in the grand missionary mandate of the church throughout the world, which is nothing other than Jesus’ Great Commission: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” That missionary mandate, including Trinity Church, Jacksonville’s missionary strategy, is symbolically revealed, manifested, shown forth, exhibited, demonstrated … in the encounter between the Wise Men and the infant Jesus.

How, precisely, can our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany assist in the pursuit of the mission God has given us? I will suggest three ways that this happens:

First, the encounter between the Wise Men and the infant Jesus establishes the scope of Christian mission, which is, that it is universal. Mission is directed toward all people in every place. Here we ought to remind ourselves of St Paul’s relentless work toward inclusion of Gentiles in Christian missionary efforts. All the first Christians, of course, were Jews, and some of them thought it should stay that way. Paul cashed in all his political chips in the cause of making the gospel available to non-Jews, for which most of us here, I would expect, should be duly grateful. This is indeed one of the marks of the “mystery” that Paul writes to the Ephesians about in our second reading this morning: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It is precisely this “mystery” that allows us to read Matthew’s story of the Wise Men the way we do. It allows us to see significance in the fact that they were Gentiles, they came from unspecified foreign lands, and therefore figuratively represent all Gentiles, and bear witness to the universality of the Gospel. There is nobody anywhere for whom the Church’s proclamation that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is not good news. We have no license to place restrictions on with whom this good news gets shared. Christian mission is universal.

Second, the encounter between the Wise Men and the infant Jesus defines the objective of Christian mission, which is what the Wise Men themselves were seeking; namely, an encounter with Jesus. In the free-church evangelical subculture in which I was raised in the 1950s and 60s, we spoke freely of the duty of all faithful Christians to “lead people to Christ.” Indeed, this is the fundamental movement of the activity we know as evangelism, which is the heart of mission. In a sense, the Star of Bethlehem was the first evangelist—it led the Wise Men from wherever in “the East” they were from, to their awkward meeting with King Herod, and then finally to “the place where the child lay.” The route to Jesus can be long and circuitous, but the objective of the Church’s missionary outreach must always point to Jesus, and broker an encounter with Jesus. It’s up to Jesus to close the deal, but he wants us to take responsibility for arranging the meeting. Mission has an objective, and that is to lead people to Christ.

Third, and finally, the encounter between the Wise Men and the infant Jesus identifies the fruit of Christian mission, which is, to use a slightly fancy term, oblation—that is, people giving themselves to Christ. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh may have their individual symbolic associations, which we sing about in that most famous of all Epiphany hymns—We Three Kings—but, generically, they were gifts. In this very celebration of the Eucharist we will explicitly make such a gift: we will offer “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” to God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit. The Wise Men presented their gifts and left, never to be heard from again. But we give ourselves to Christ as one continuous lifelong movement, “that we may dwell in him, and he in us,” using the words that we will pray together in a few minutes, until we see him face to face. We take up where the Wise Men leave off, and don’t just bring gifts; we become gifts. We give ourselves. Self-giving is the essential fruit of mission.

Epiphany reminds us that the scope of our mission is universal, the objective of our mission is an encounter with Jesus, and the fruit of our mission is a continuous act of oblation, of self-giving. This is daunting. Fortunately, grace abounds, and we are never under-resourced for this work.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Saturday (12th Day of Christmas)

  • MP in the cathedral around 0800. Then off for biscuits & gravy at my new "regular" Saturday morning haunt, Charlie Parker's.
  • I decided to take advantage of a postponed afternoon meeting and devote most of the day to the project of producing a substantive pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage. It's the kind of thing that requires a big block of time for sustained focus and research, which doesn't just happen--moments must be seized, and I seized this one. I'm happy with what I got done.
  • In the midst of that, I did manage a major walk--east on Lawrence to Sixth, north all the way the North Grand Avenue, west to Second, and back down.
  • Dinner at O'Charley's. 
  • Spent the bulk of the evening writing out greetings to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in January.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday (11th Day of Christmas)

  • Morning Prayer in a still-dark cathedral before breakfast, then ton the drive-through at Hardee's (for a change of pace from McD's).
  • Culled the accumulated hard-copy items on my desk.
  • Ran (well, walked, actually) down to Illinois National Bank to initiate a wire transfer of some funds to our companion diocese of Tabora, funds that have been lying around, earmarked for that purpose.
  • Took care of a handful of small administrative items.
  • Consulted with Paige on a couple of her ongoing projects. Did some internet followup of my own on one of them.
  • Got to work refining and editing the working text of my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Broke off from this to greet my 113o lunch appointment, arriving fifteen minutes early--one of our postulants. We walked over to Boone's Tavern for a productive "live Ember Day letter."
  • Got back to the sermon work I had started earlier, ending up with a manuscript in my car, and e-versions scheduled to post at 10am Sunday.
  • Plotted and scheduled the tasks related to getting ready for this year's Chrism Mass.
  • Stepped out to get my hair cut, my car washed, and a bit of personal shopping done (the venues of my former Springfield routine continue to beckon, just because of their easy familiarity).
  • My usual Friday prayer practice consisted of a deep final (for this season) listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Christmas cantata Hodie, with the sung texts open on my computer so I could follow along. It is a marvelous work of art, not nearly well-enough known, IMO. Because I was the only one in the building by this time, I could have the sound up as loud as I wanted!
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Thursday (10th Day of Christmas)

  • Same early AM routine as yesterday.
  • In consultation with three commentaries, did exegetical work on the readings for Epiphany IV (February 3 at Christ the King, Normal). This is often my favorite part of the sermon development process, and I devoted the entire rest of the morning to it..
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took my daily 75-minute (or thereabouts) walk on a sunny and somewhat mild early afternoon.
  • Got through a big chunk of the exorcism rite development project.
  • Got organized for preaching on Epiphany V (February 10 at Holy Trinity, Danville)--said my prayers, created a Word file, pasted the texts of the readings into it, read them carefully and jotted down a few preliminary notes.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda in our domestic oratory.
  • After a dinner of homemade Cincinnati-style chili, I packed for three nights away and hit the road southbound at 7:07pm, arriving at the Springfield office at around 10:30.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday

  • Up and in our domestic oratory by around 0630 for some time in quiet contemplation, deep intercession, and, eventually the morning office.
  • Fixed tea and breakfast, which I ate (and drank) while taking a short pass through social media, checking overnight email, and planning my day's work. The USA Today crossword puzzle is also establishing itself as part of my morning routine, the goal being to finish it in uder 15 minutes.
  • Showered, dressed, and attacked my task list, starting with ...
  • ... doing appropriate surgery on the text of a pre-used sermon for Epiphany II, getting it ready for deployment at Christ Church, Springfield on January 20.
  • Exchanged emails with the rector of Trinity, Jacksonville, covering some of the details of my visitation there this Sunday.
  • Attended to a handful of pastoral issues via text and email, one of which required an unusual amount of thought and care, and was yet undone when I ... 
  • ... took Brenda to a scheduled healthcare appointment. Stopped to pick up some lunch at Popeye's afterward, bringing it home to eat.
  • Continued to labor over the undone pastoral email, finally bringing it to a conclusion.
  • Said my prayers, and then took a first homiletical drive-by at the readings for Epiphany IV, when the plan is for me to be presiding and preaching at Christ the King, Normal (February 3).
  • Took Brenda to yet another medical appointment (MRI of brain, which is not a pleasant procedure).
  • Despite the mostly-fallen darkness, I braved the elements for 7000 steps, which took me about an hour.
  • Evening Prayer in the oratory.