Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sermon for Epiphany VI

St Thomas’, Glen Carbon--Luke 6:17–26

I once saw a signboard in front of a church that read, “If you feel far from God … guess who moved.” That’s cute and clever, of course, but it also speaks some truth, at least inasmuch as, at any given moment, any given person is probably more likely to feel far away from God than close to God. Sometimes we’re conscious of this distance from God, and might even be able to say why we feel distant. More often, perhaps, its subliminal, operating in the background, like an app that slows down your computer or smart phone just enough to be annoying but not enough to make you want to investigate the reason. Either way, however, it results in something theologians have called “soul-sorrow.” Soul-sorrow is a deep-seated intuitive sense that something is wrong, not just at a personal level, not even just on the level of society, but cosmically. Something is cosmically wrong. It’s not dramatic. It’s not flashy. It’s just persistent, like the experience that some people have of ringing in the ears that just won’t ever go away.

Even Christians, even people of faith, can suffer from soul-sorrow. The evidence of all that is wrong—with the world, with reality itself—is too overwhelming. Too often, though, I suspect that Christians who are afflicted by a particularly acute case of soul-sorrow are forgetting one of the bedrock convictions of our faith—namely, the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  We forget that part of God’s project of saving us from ourselves, saving us from the power of sin and death—part of God’s project was to become one of us, to take our mortal human flesh, to identify with us, to become “in every way as we are, yet without sin.”

A couple of minutes ago, we heard Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. We’re familiar with the Beatitudes as we find them—nine of them, to be precise—in Matthew’s gospel, but, I would suspect, less familiar with the pared-down version that we find in Luke—pared down in the sense that there are only four instead of nine, and also shorter; instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” for example, it’s just “Blessed are you who are poor.” So, we have “Blessed are your who are poor,” “Blessed are you who are hungry,” “Blessed are you who weep now,” and “Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude you and revile you, and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” (That last one does get a little long, I guess, doesn’t it?)  Yet, in this pared-down form that we find in Luke, the Beatitudes beautifully describe the conditions that Jesus himself assumed, the conditions that Jesus took on to himself, for our sake, when he took our flesh, when he became one of us.

Blessed are you who are poor. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus says of himself that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” There’s no evidence that either Jesus or his disciples were ever in danger of starvation, but they wandered around and were dependent on the generosity of others for their food and lodging. Think of the occasion when the Pharisees scolded Jesus for his disciples plucking grain from fields along the side of the road; they did that because they needed food, not just to pass the time. St Paul, writing to the Corinthians, refers to Jesus as having been “made poor for our sake” (II Cor. 8:9). For whatever fame he achieved, Jesus never enjoyed even modest material prosperity, let alone wealth. He constantly lived on the edge financially, not unlike many among us. The recent government shutdown revealed the extent to which many Americans indeed live paycheck-to-paycheck, and are only a job loss away from homelessness. Jesus knows poverty.

Blessed are you who are hungry. When Jesus uttered these words, he was speaking from personal experience. Right after his baptism, you will recall, Jesus went right out to the Judean wilderness for a very long fasting retreat. The Devil attempted to exploit his hunger by challenging him to turn the stones that lay on the ground in front of him into loaves of bread. I cannot even begin to imagine what it took for Jesus to resist that particular temptation. Now, not many among us may be physically hungry, other than feeling slightly peckish in anticipation of whatever food there is at coffee hour (though some are), but few of us are unable to identify with a “hunger” for prestige and influence, and a temptation to abuse what power we have in order to achieve those things. Jesus knows hunger.

Blessed are you who weep now. A decade ago, as part of my first and so far only trip to the Holy Land, the members of my group were first introduced to the city of Jerusalem from atop one of the hills that lie to the north and to the east of the city. It was a spectacular and intensely moving sight. And it was from one of these hills, most likely, that Jesus wept over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says according to Matthew’s account, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” And in John’s gospel, we read of his appearance in the village of Bethany after receiving word of the illness of his dear friend Lazarus, but by the time he gets there, Lazarus had died. As he encounters Lazarus’ sister Mary, still overcome by her own grief, Jesus himself joined her in her weeping. Jesus wept.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude you and revile you, and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Here we cannot help but be reminded of several passages from the prophet Isaiah—and if you’re like me, passages from Isaiah as set to music by George Frederick Handel: “He was despised and rejected, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” As Holy Week comes around each year, and we subject ourselves to the liturgical recapitulation of our Lord’s passion, an experience that sits somewhere on the range between uncomfortable and painful, we see him mocked by the soldiers who crowned him with thorns and robed him in purple. We hear his searing words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knows hatred and exclusion.

The fact is, wherever we can go in our soul-sorrow, Jesus has been there, and is, in fact, there with us. Poverty, hunger, weeping, scorn—Jesus is familiar with this territory.

Many Christian homes are decorated somewhere with a cross on the wall. It used to be—this isn’t so much as case anymore—it used to be that you could tell a Catholic home from a Protestant home by whether it was just a plain cross, or a crucifix, one with the suffering Jesus still attached to it. There’s actually a third alternative as well—an image of a crowned Jesus wearing the vestments of priest, as it were, reigning from the cross. All three of the representations of the cross have something to commend themselves. But when I’m with someone who’s feeling deep soul-sorrow, or when I’m in that place myself, there’s no replacement for a crucifix. I want to know who’s with me in my pain at that moment, because I know he’s the one who knows the way out.

It’s one thing to suffer—whether by means of material deprivation, or hunger, or grief, or loss of reputation. But, as followers of Jesus, we have an opportunity to suffer in an added dimension. We have an opportunity to make our suffering not meaningless, but redemptive. We have an invitation to suffer “in Christ,” with Christ, our lives bound to him and his to ours. This is, in fact, what the Eucharist is all about, but that’s a different sermon! Suffice to say that, as we offer this Eucharist, we do so in solidarity with Jesus, laying our soul-sorrow at the foot of the cross. And precisely there, at the foot of the cross, so we find the grace to redeem our suffering by conforming it to the suffering of Jesus. How much closer to God could we get? Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday

Up and out of our Springfield office encampment right at 0800. Then down to Charlie Parker's, so I could introduce Brenda to my Saturday morning haunt. Then down to Edwardsville, where we arrived at St Andrew's the targeted 60 minutes ahead of the Celebration of New Ministry inducting Fr Joel Morsch as 33rd rector of the parish. Following the fine post-liturgical repast, I had a scheduled conference with a cleric of the diocese. By the time that meeting concluded, it was 2:00pm. Brenda and I headed to our reserved hotel room in Glen Carbon, whereupon I immediately collapsed from exhaustion; I was *really* tired. Only left the room long enough to grab dinner at Ruby Tuesday in Collinsville. Whatever aspirations to afternoon productivity I may have had were laid aside.

Sermon for the Installation of Fr Joel Morsch as Rector of St Andrew's, Edwardsville

Joshua 1:7-9--Psalm 43--Ephesians 4:7, 11-16--John 14:11-15

St Andrew’s Church in Edwardsville, Illinois has a story—a rather long story, but American standards, at any rate. (Our friends from across the Atlantic might not be overly impressed.) 178 years is long enough to have seen a Civil War, which I cannot help but think affected the parish profoundly, two World Wars, and a Great Depression. Rectors have come and gone. The location has changed. Buildings have been erected, and added onto. Hundreds upon hundreds of souls have been reborn in Christ at the font of baptism in this church. Children have been instructed in the faith and presented for confirmation. These very hands have laid on a few of them. Dozens and dozens of couples have stood at this altar and made vows to one another “in the presence of God and this company.” And some of those who were baptized, confirmed, and married at St Andrew’s were buried from this parish, having attained a ripe, old age. The Eucharist has been celebrated here over 10,000 times. And, whatever we may know about the history of this church, there’s way more that we don’t know, and can’t say, but is still important to the heart of God and in the lives of those who were touched here, but whose encounter with the Holy One in St Andrew’s Church left no record or trace save in the privacy of their own hearts and minds. The inertia, the momentum, of the history of St Andrew’s Church weighs heavily on us this morning. It is a force we cannot even begin to measure.

Joel Morsch also has a story—not as long as the story of this parish, to be sure, but long enough. He’s no spring chicken—and I can get away with saying that because he’s about my age, and I’m no spring chicken! Fr Joel has had a distinguished tenure as rector of one of the most significant parishes in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and served two other parishes before that. His ministry as a priest has touched countless lives, and his priestly character has been shaped and molded over his 21 years of ordained ministry, and before that. He’s a husband and father and grandfather. He comes to Edwardsville not as a blank slate, but as an experienced and mature priest and leader.

Both of these stories—the story of St Andrew’s and the story of Fr Joel—are powerful and deep. Both stories have great strengths. The spiritual DNA of St Andrew’s, as it has been genetically modified—not engineered, but modified, in a quite organic way—the spiritual DNA of St Andrew’s as it has evolved over the decades is one of this community’s greatest assets. That DNA is present here this morning. And the aggregate life experiences of Joel Morsch have formed him into a wise and competent Christian leader. His assets have been on display here for a couple of months now, and they are in the room this morning.

Both stories, I should add, also bring vulnerabilities to this occasion. You don’t need me to tell you—and I don’t need any particular knowledge of St Andrew’s to be able to say this; what I’m about to say is generally true of virtually all church communities—you don’t need me to tell you that patterns of dysfunctionality are embedded in the culture of St Andrew’s. People have been wounded here, grievously wounded, and some have left wounded, but left a robust share of their woundedness behind to continue to infect the community. Sin lives and spreads in the life of St Andrew’s Church. Fr Morsch also arrives here this morning a wounded man, and I can say that even though I don’t know him very well. He arrives here with peculiar sensitivities and vulnerabilities. He is a flawed human being.

So this is a complex and mixed occasion. It drinks from a liturgical tradition named “induction” and “institution,” and we are indeed inducting and instituting the 34th rector of St Andrew’s today. But the Prayer Book calls this liturgy a Celebration of a New Ministry; that’s it’s official title. Now, it’s tempting, I know, to think of the “new ministry” as being that of Fr Morsch, and it is that. But it’s also so much more. It’s the joining of two stories—two long and powerful stories that carry within themselves both strengths and vulnerabilities—the joining of two stories to create one new story. I was never a very good student in science, and only had “bonehead chemistry” in college, but I did learn the difference between a chemical mixture and a chemical compound. A mixture leaves the two contributing elements identifiably intact. A compound creates something, something to which both elements contribute, but which has properties that are beyond either of the two contributors. Or, since Edwardsville is a college town and there are many academics in this parish community, to use the language of classical Hegelian dialectics: St Andrew’s is the thesis and Fr Joel is the antithesis and what we are celebrating this morning is a synthesis of the two. We are beginning a new story, one that is developed out of the story of St Andrew’s and the story of Fr Morsch. That is the “new ministry” that we are celebrating.

This new story has a purpose. St Paul, writing to the Ephesians, articulates this purpose:
… so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
There is an observable result that we expect to see from this new joint ministry between Joel Morsch and St Andrew’s Church, and it has to do with maturity in Christ, wisdom and perceptive insight, the ability to speak truth in love, and become more and more like Jesus in deed and word. It also has to do with worship, as Psalm 43 reminds us:
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
St Andrew’s has ever been and must always be a worshiping community, a Eucharistic community. That alone provides the context in which Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians can take root and flourish.

And what are the means of accomplishing the purpose of this new story? The Lord’s advice to Joshua as he “celebrates” his “new ministry” as leader of the people of Israel in succession to Moses offers us a clue:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua had a monumental task ahead of him. Can you imagine trying to succeed Moses? Here he is being promised that, inasmuch as he is faithful to that task, God will be faithful to him. We claim that promise now, in strength and courage, on behalf of the new story that is being revealed today.

Finally, the story of the new ministry between St Andrew’s and Fr Joel has an aspirational outcome, as we read in John’s gospel, as Jesus tells his disciples:
Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
I’ve always been amazed and intrigued by these words of our Lord as he takes leave of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. Jesus had an earthly ministry of compelling teaching and miraculous healing. What works could possibly be “greater” than these? There is no stock answer to such a question, but it’s apparently our vocation and destiny to find out! Somehow, the opportunity for witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ made possible by the coming together of the St Andrew’s story and the Joel Morsch story—made possible, indeed, by Jesus going to the Father—is something we should await with bated breath.

One new story emerging from two stories coming together, a vital new synthesis growing from the encounter between a thesis and an antithesis. This new story is rooted in Christian community and worship. It is resourced by the divine gift of strength and courage. It is inspired by the vision of accomplishing greater works for the sake of kingdom of God than we can now even imagine. I have every confidence that this new story will be a blessing to Edwardsville and southern Madison County and to the Diocese of Springfield. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday (Thomas Bray)

  • Usual early AM routine.
  • Processed a short-stack of late-arriving emails.
  • Attended to some routine personal finance chores.
  • Packed and loaded the car, with Brenda in tow, and headed south, departing our garage at 1145. Arrived at the office in Springfield around 3:30.
  • Briefly conferred with the Communicator and the Archdeacon, then headed out to get a haircut and a carwash. (Yes, I'm still more comfortable accomplishing some of the mundane chores of life in Springfield than in Chicago.)
  • Returned to the office and did the finish work on my homily for Epiphany VI, this Sunday at St Thomas', Glen Carbon. Other than ending up with output from a printer that I can put in my car, "finish work" includes carefully reviewing the text for "orality," A sermon is an oral event; it is spoken and heart, primarily, and only secondarily something that might be read. The spoken word has both more constraints (simple sentence structure, accessible vocabulary) and more opportunities (rhythm, pacing, repetition, alliteration). When I create a first rough draft of a sermon text, I *try* to attend to these things, but I always find that, when I come back to it later, I always find several places where I can recognize more deeply that what I'm working on is not an essay or a blog post, but a sermon.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda in the cathedral. Then out to dinner at NuhVo (first-time visit to a newish endeavor).
  • Back in the office: sealed Fr Morsch's institution certificate, wrote a memo to the Standing Committee.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday (Ss Cyril & Methodius)

  • Usual weekday AM pattern, made longer and more complicated now by all the exercises my physical therapist has assigned.
  • Tweaked (not insignificantly), edited, formatted, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for Saturday's Celebration of a New Ministry at St Andrew's, Edwardsville. Most importantly, perhaps, I placed the working script in my car--this after dealing with some technology issues related to the printer.
  • Took a call from the Bishop of Northern Michigan on a matter of mutual concern.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Did some substantial, and time-consuming, work on a portion of the clergy retreat that I am directly responsible for.
  • Took a first homiletical drive-by of the readings for Lent V (Redeemer, Cairo).
  • Brenda and I went on a long walk on what felt like a balmy afternoon, trying to keep our footing on the sections of slush and avoid stepping too deeply in standing water. I am really ready for spring.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday (Evening Prayer)

The day began somewhat "violently," as Brenda was scheduled for an 0830 test (an EEG, still chasing down her fainting spells late last year) that required her to arrive "as sleep-deprived as possible." So I got us both up just before 0500, and we watched silent films from the 1920s on Turner Classic Movies. I had a bit of granola (she wasn't allowed anything) and re Morning Prayer in the usual fashion. We walked the three blocks to Swedish Covenant Hospital in 15-degree cold, the test went smoothly, and we walked back in 20-degree temps. I then got to work on my task list: processed a reply to my Lambeth Conference registration and plotted some appropriate followup tasks, reviewed draft minutes from last Saturday's Diocesan Council meeting and returned them to the secretary with some notes, made some concrete plans and arrangements around April's annual Mass of Chrism. Carryout lunch from the Chinese place around the corner. Spent most of the afternoon creating a rough draft sermon from my developed notes for Epiphany VII (St George's, Belleville). Long walk with Brenda, then Evening Prayer together.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tuesday

  • Morning Prayer and tea in the usual weekday manner, but then out of the building at 0740 en route to a 0800 physical therapy appointment--a three block walk through slushy sidewalks.
  • After the appointment, and checking my weather app to learn that walking conditions were not going to get any better as the day progressed, I leveraged the distance I already was from home into a proper walk.
  • Upon returning, and spending a bit of time with Hattie, who was down for a visit, I organized my week's worth of tasks and picked out targets for getting done today,
  • Officially created an account with Breeze, our new database provider, and got Paige set up to begin the process of data import.
  • Took care of a handful of smallish administrative matters via email.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended to some routine personal finance chores.
  • Devoted the bulk of the afternoon to fleshing out into a rough draft the (somewhat) detailed notes I had made last week toward a homily this Saturday on the occasion of Fr Joel Morsch's institution as rector of St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Up and out of my Urbana hotel room a little before 0800, grateful that it hadn't started snowing yet. Made it to Holy Trinity, Danville about 30 minutes later, ahead of their regular 0900 liturgy. Presided and preached, always energized by the spiritual intensity of worship in this community. Enjoyed a fine post-liturgical repast, visited with folks, and loaded up for home at 1045. To my dismay, it was by that time snowing pretty hard, which made the trip home a long one; it was the better part of four hours up IL49 to Kankakee, then into Chicago on I-57. Made it home safe and sound, though, which is the important thing.

Sermon for Epiphany V

Holy Trinity, Danville--Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-13

In the mid-1960s, there was a country song that won several awards and was eventually recorded by none other than Elvis Presley. Most everyone in this church today probably remembers the first line from the chorus: “There goes my reason for living.” The songwriter, of course, is referring to a woman with whom he is in love, and, although one hopes that it might be an exaggeration that she is literally his reason for living, it’s an understandable emotion. Now, I could argue that devotion to one single human being is not by itself a worthy “reason for living.” But, at least he had that. As I look around at our society today, I wonder what percentage of people would hem and haw and stammer and stutter if they were asked to respond, off the cuff, to the question, What is your reason for living? I suspect it would be a substantial majority who would have a difficult time with that. It is indeed quite common and easy for someone in our society to feel adrift and aimless in life, to feel no purpose in life, to have no “reason for living.” It may even be the default condition. And, I have to say, people who profess faith, Christian or otherwise, are not immune from this. One might expect Christians to do a little better than non-Christians about having a purposeful life, but it’s not always the case.

Indeed, faith is fragile and vulnerable in this world. There is no end to the number of competitors for our attention and interest. Every direction we turn, something is popping up and screaming, “Make me the one! Let me be your reason for living!” It could be a politician, it could be a video game, it could be a career, a diet, a vacation getaway, a social cause … all in endless varieties. The allure of the world can distract our attention from our faith. Pressure from the world can overwhelm and smother our faith. When our faith does not supply a compelling sense of direction and purpose for our lives, when our Christian identity is not our “reason for living,” the world is right there with plenty of alternatives to choose from.

Simon, later called Peter, was a simple fisherman. He didn’t aspire to anything greater than eking out a living from a large Palestinian lake. Then he met Jesus. Jesus asked if he could borrow Simon’s boat, tied up just a few feet off shore, to use as a speaking platform from which to address the crowd that was gathered. Simon allowed this to happen, Jesus taught the people for a while, and then Jesus—who was a carpenter by trade, not a fisherman—presumed to give Simon fishing advice. He said, “Push off a little further out and then drop your net.” Simon probably rolled his eyes inwardly—he’d actually been out on the water all night; this was in the early morning—but he decided he would go ahead and humor Jesus. Well, you heard the story: Simon let down his net and it was soon filled with more fish than he was even able to haul ashore; he had to ask for help.

Then, after giving Simon an unsolicited fishing lesson, he says, in effect, “Why don’t you leave this fishing thing behind?å I’ve got something rather more fulfilling in mind for you. Follow me and ‘fish’ for people instead.” And when they got back to shore, Simon Peter—along with his partners James and John, Luke tells us—“left everything and followed Jesus.”

A few hundred years earlier, a fellow named Isaiah, was, like Peter, just minding his own business when he has this crazy vision of the glory of God, surrounded by six-winged angels, and lots and lots on incense. Isaiah is so impressed and inspired by the experience that, when the Lord asks, “Who will go for us?” he immediately responds, “Here I am. Send me.”

Both of these accounts are instances of vocation, which is just a Latin-based way of saying “call.” God called unsuspecting individuals, first Isaiah and then Peter, to serve him in a particular way. Isaiah became the prophet who gives us the great bulk of the language and theological framework for how we understand the notion of “Messiah,” the pattern for which Jesus eventually became the fulfillment. He created the environment in which the arrival of the Messiah could be interpreted. Peter, after some fits and starts, became not only an Apostle, but first among the Apostles, the “Rock” of the Church.

In these two calls, the call of Isaiah and the call of Peter, we see vocation as a means of grace. Vocation is, indeed, a means of grace. First, vocation conveys the grace of forgiveness and absolution. Before Isaiah is permitted to respond, “Here I am, send me,” he is terrified by his own abject unworthiness, as we read,
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
But, in God’s mercy, Isaiah is not left to wallow long in his guilt:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And Peter—when he witnessed a carpenter having given him the best fishing advice he’d ever gotten, was smitten by an awareness of his own sinfulness:
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
The Lord’s invitation for Peter to follow him carries an implicit declaration of pardon. For Isaiah and for Peter, the call of God first imparts the grace of forgiveness.

Then, after pardon and absolution, the call of God invites and allows the one who is called to be enveloped by the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, to participate in the manifestation, the realization, of God’s love, God’s ongoing project of raising up things which were cast down, making new things which had grown old, and bringing all things to perfection. In Peter’s case, the call of Jesus incorporated him into a community of disciples focused not on catching fish, but catching people—catching them not to kill and eat them, but catching them alive in order to give them deeper and more enduring life.

You and I are among the “fish” that “Peter” has caught over the last 20 centuries. We have been “caught alive,” and initiated through baptism into the mystery of the Kingdom of God. We have been sustained through Word and Sacrament as we explore the Kingdom’s riches. We are called to be disciples who make disciples; we are caught fish who catch more fish. That is our purpose. That is the meaning of our lives. That is our reason for living.

As members of twenty-first century North American society, we run the risk of drifting through life aimlessly, but, in the words of the familiar hymn, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea.” I have a vocation. You have a vocation. They’re not the same. We’re all called by the same Jesus, but he calls us to different ministries in his Kingdom. The peculiar vocation that each of us has been given, however, is a means of grace to us. It is the channel for the perfection of our holiness; indeed, for our eternal salvation. And when we respond to that call, when we emulate Isaiah when he said, “Here am I, send me,” we become ourselves means of grace to others. We catch other “fish” alive, that they may experience what we have experienced. The most wonderfully exciting thing we can do in our life of faith is to listen for and discover that vocation. That vocation alone can divert us from the distractions of the world; again, in the words of the hymn: “Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store, from each idol that would keep us, saying, ‘Christian, love me more.”

Indeed, may the grace of the Holy Communion we are about to receive enable us to hear the clear voice of the Savior saying, “Christian, follow me.” Amen.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Saturday

  • Up around 0630. Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Charlie Parker's for breakfast. Back at the office around 0900. (The morning routine now involves a not-small amount of time devoted to the stretching exercises my physical therapist has prescribed.)
  • Got ready for the Diocesan Council meeting and the Mass that precedes is.
  • Presided and preached at a Votive Mass "For the Sick."
  • Presided over the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Council. This included a robust discussion of mission strategy concerns.
  • Lunch at Boone's with two clerics and two laity from council.
  • Met with the President and another member of the Standing Committee for a planned "review" of the effects of my residential relocation to Chicago.
  • Refined, edited, formatted, printed, and scheduled for posting the text of tomorrow's homily at Holy Trinity, Danville.
  • Noticing that I already had 6500 steps on my Fitbit pedometer, I took a slightly abbreviated brisk walk, up Second to Adams, over to Sixth, then back down to Lawrence and completing the circuit to Second. More than met my 10k daily quota.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Packed up, loaded the YFNBmobile, and headed east to the Hampton Inn in Urbana for the night. Upon the recommendation of the desk clerk, I enjoyed excellent Chinese at the Golden Harbor in Champaign.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday

  • Usual morning routine for a Friday when I'm doing an office encampment: up and prepped, Morning Prayer in the cathedral, McD's drive-through (too cold for any walking today), and back at the office by 0820 or so.
  • A stray comment by the Administrator alerted me to the possibility that my email client was once again having issues, as it seems to do periodically, with my diocesan email account, and, sure enough, while I have been able to send *from* it, I haven't been getting any inbound messages for about a week. When I logged on directly to the Microsoft 365 portal, there they were--about 12 or 15, all overdue for a response from me. So, instead of patting myself on the back for a relatively modest task list for the day, it instantly expanded to the familiar "more than I can do."
  • 10am regular meeting of the Department of Finance. There were some necessary chores ahead of tomorrow's Diocesan Council meeting.
  • Got back to those emails.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten in the office.
  • Back to the emails.
  • The bulk of the afternoon was spent with members of the Department of Mission reviewing the Mission Strategy Reports submitted submitted by the Eucharistic Communities last summer and fall. We will be giving brief feedback on each.
  • Took an incoming phone call from one of our clerics.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral (which has a beautiful stained glass window corresponding to each one). Then Evening Prayer.
  • Dinner at Chili's, then some scanning of accumulated hard-copy items.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thursday

  • Morning Prayer as dawn broke ... followed by tea, breakfast, crossword, email culling, Facebook scanning, task planning, shower.
  • Greeted a radiator/boiler repair guy and reviewed the issues we have in our building, and in each unit. Steam heat is endearing, but exotic.
  • Made serious progress developing a homily for the institution of Fr Morsch in Edwardsville on the 16th.
  • Walked the three blocks to the Swedish Covenant Health complex for a physical therapy appointment.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Churned out another section of my in-progress pastoral teaching document on marriage and sexuality.
  • Took a long, brisk walk with Brenda as temps began to plummet.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • Fixed a chicken fajita-ish dish for dinner.
  • Packed and his the road southbound at 7:10. Strong, gust wind the whole way slowed progress, so I didn't make record time. Pulled into the diocesan garage right at 11:00.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wednesday

From time to time, a day will just feel like it never gets traction, and today was one of those days for me. The main culprit, I think, was a healthcare appointment for Brenda that took the better part of three hours, way longer than we anticipated. On either side of that, I did manage to flesh out a homiletical message statement for the Last Sunday after Epiphany (St Paul's, Pekin) into a developed outline, and make significant progress on the exorcism liturgy project. Processed a few emails. That one's coming in for a landing soon. It was Brenda's birthday, so we ordered carry-out gourmet hamburgers for dinner (since little Hattie is not available to be out at adult dinnertime). 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday (Martyrs of Japan)

  • Usual early weekday AM routine.
  • Spent an hour attending a conference call meeting of the trustees of the Society of King Charles the Martyr.
  • Spent the rest of the morning (and part of the afternoon) taking my developed outline for an Epiphany VI sermon at St Thomas', Glen Carbon and turning it into a rough draft text. Took a call from an Episcopal News Service reporter wanting to talk about--what else?--B012. Grabbed lunch from the nearby Subway.
  • Got to work laying a foundation for a homily at the institution of Fr Joel Morsch as rector of St Andrew's, Edwardsville on the 16th. 
  • Walked the three blocks to the Swedish Covenant medical complex for an initial assessment from a physical therapist. I have some back issues. She pronounced me "very tight and inflexible." I resisted the temptation to tell her there are plenty of people who would have been willing to volunteer that information without her having to examine me! After the appointment, I took an unnecessarily long route home just to get some steps in.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

  • Morning Prayer in my office encampment.
  • Hit the road northbound at 0815, arriving at Christ the King, Normal at the targeted 0945, ahead of their regular 1015 Sunday liturgy. I was greeted with the proverbial beehive of activity, as rapid snow melt on the flat roof section of their building found the weak spots in said roof, causing steadily dripping water in the chapel and sacristy. If anybody from Church Insurance follows this blog, please stand by.
  • Presided and preached (and had to read my own gospel, as there is no resident priest at CtK).
  • Visited with the folks during a pot-luck luncheon, spoke a bit about the 2020 Lambeth Conference and the prospects for liturgical change in TEC, then headed home to Chicago, arriving around 3:00.
  • Took a nice long walk with Brenda in weather that feels balmy compared to last week, dodging standing water much of the time. Chinese carry-out for dinner, since we weren't invited to any Super Bowl party.

Sermon for Epiphany IV

Christ the King, Normal--Luke 4:-21-30

Jesus, the Nazareth boy who’s turning into a bit of a celebrity in the region of Galilee, checks the serving schedule at his familiar hometown synagogue on the Sabbath, and discovers that he’s down to do one of the readings. So he shows up for the service on time, and, at the right moment, gets up and goes to the lectern and reads the appointed lesson, which is from the 61st chapter of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and has anointed me to bring good news to the poor …”—you know how it goes … we heard it last Sunday: recovery of sight to the blind, healing for the brokenhearted, release of prisoners, and so forth. Then, instead of just saying “The Word of the Lord” and sitting down, Jesus ad libs an inflammatory tag line: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” As we heard in the gospel reading a minute ago, the situation went rapidly downhill from there, and the crowd was soon ready to throw Jesus off a cliff. Before they arrived at that point, however, we hear Jesus utter one of his most well-known sayings: “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown,” or as Mark’s version of the same incident puts it, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.”

As Christians in the developed western world in the 21st century, we can readily identify with what Jesus was feeling and saying in that moment. Even though Christianity originated in the Middle East, and has long been a worldwide religion, it blossomed and flourished most fully in Europe, and, eventually, in the Americas. Europe is considered Christianity’s home turf. Yet, this is a time of angst and insecurity among Christian communities in Europe and elsewhere in the western world. Sunday attendance is way, way down. Church buildings are being converted into concert venues, restaurants, nightclubs, and apartment buildings. U.S. Senators suggest that membership in the Knights of Columbus disqualifies one from serving as a federal judge. The public articulation of norms for human behavior that are ancient and universal are now widely regarded as hate speech. Indeed, the gospel is “without honor in [its] own country.”

Church leaders across all denominational lines are seeing more and more clearly that, if these trends don’t get reversed, we are staring into the abyss of oblivion. Christianity in Europe and North America may become a subject of study by historians and archeologists rather than something alive in the present. We all feel this, and try to do our own part. I know I do, at the level of the diocese and the national church. I’m pretty sure you do as well, at the level of the parish and, for some, the diocese. We take our fair share in the struggle to reclaim lost territory, but it can be discouraging. The task is indescribably huge, and the precise contours of the situation we are facing are constantly shifting; it’s like playing an endless game of Whack-a-Mole. We are overwhelmed both by the enormity of the task and the rate at which the contours of the situation we face are changing. It’s all quite daunting.

Jesus, as we have seen, was in similar straits when his relationship with the synagogue-goers in his hometown of Nazareth went from very good to very bad very quickly. But their attempt to herd him into non-existence failed; he escaped—we don’t know precisely how; the point is that he did.

And I would invite us to consider that Jesus’ escape from being thrown over a cliff is a sign—a sign that points to a pattern, which is simply this: the gospel perseveres. The gospel perseveres. It keeps on keeping on. Like Timex watches back in the day, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, and the crowd cornered him and tried to force him over a ledge, Luke tells us that he “passed through their midst” and went on to Capernaum. As I said, we don’t know how; the point is that he did. And when, eventually, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, after the Day of Pentecost, the gospel was largely rejected in Judea, among Jesus’ own people, Paul made the decision to take it to the Gentiles. This gospel according to Luke that we’re reading from this year in the lectionary cycle, you know, is just the first of a two-volume set by the same author, and Volume II, which we know as the Book of Acts, brings us the eventual result of the incident about which we read this morning: Gentiles hear the word of God and respond to it favorably, and, within just a few short years, there are disciples of Jesus all throughout the Mediterranean world.  Luke attributes Jesus’ popularity to “gracious words”—one translation suggests “charming” instead of gracious, but—charming or gracious—Jesus’ words are irresistible wherever they go. The gospel keeps on keeping on. The gospel perseveres.

So … it’s all up to us … except it’s not, it’s completely not up to us. It’s both up to us and not up to us. When I walked the Camino pilgrimage route across northern Spain in 2016, I did a lot a praying; there just wasn’t much else to do much of the time! I prayed for the diocese of Springfield. I prayed that the Lord would do something among us for which he alone could receive the credit, something not of our own making. I asked for this to happen while I was away on sabbatical. That part of my prayer didn’t get answered in just the manner I had in mind, but I’ll tell you this: I continue to see signs that the Holy Spirit is blowing, with sovereign freedom, in the Diocese of Springfield. Just last Sunday, I visited Trinity, Lincoln. The church was fuller than I’ve ever seen it, and the median age was way lower than I’ve ever seen it. We confirmed two young adults. Where are all these people coming from? Most of them are associated in some way with Lincoln Christian University, right there in Trinity’s back yard. Now, neither Fr Evans nor I planned this. We didn’t strategize to forge ties with the university. It is clearly a “God thing.” So, being stewards of God’s mission, plotting strategy and tactics, developing and submitting Mission Strategy Reports to the diocese (!)—these are good things, these are faithful and responsible things. But if our strategies are ill-conceived or ineptly-executed, if we’re stupid or lazy or both, you know something? The gospel will still persevere. Jesus will slip through the crowd and move on to the next village, and preach good news to the poor, and recovery of sight to the blind, heal broken hearts, and release those in prison. You and I are in line neither for credit nor for blame. God gets the glory. Amen.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedra, breakfast a Charlie Parker's, a bit of shopping at Target (didn't find what I was looking for, but bought something else), went by the old homestead (still vacant) to make sure thermostats were correctly set (they weren't, which has been costing me money).
  • Refined, printed, and scheduled for posting my homily for tomorrow (Christ the King, Normal).
  • Responded by email to an administrative query from one of our parish clergy.
  • Wrote a note of condolence to a colleague bishop who's had a death in the family.
  • Registered online for the July 2020 Lambeth Conference. It was a rather involved process, and involved me taking a selfie.
  • Via email, dealt with a string of pastoral and administrative issues, each of them small in its own right, but none of them unimportant.
  • Stepped out for a late lunch from Chick-Fil-A, and a dash into Macy's, to once again not find what I was looking for.
  • Took a long and vigorous walk on a rather lovely (for early February) afternoon: east on Lawrence to Ninth, north to Carpenter, west fo Walnut, south back to Lawrence, and east to home base.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a Doodle poll about a meeting of Province V bishops in June.
  • Two more emails responding to pastoral/administrative issues.
  • Refined the draft text of my next "Seven Marks" catechetical video.
  • Reviewed my February visitation calendar and created some appropriate calendar reminders.
  • Drove the few blocks down to Bernie & Betty's for a late supper.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday (St Brigid)

  • "Slept in," by recent standards. Woke at 7am in the downtown Doubletree. Arrived in the office around 0830, after having stopped by McD's for a bite.
  • Long debrief with the Archdeacon over a wide range of concerns. Since we no longer see each other daily, what used to be spread out now gets concentrated under the new order of things.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral chapel (in deference to the vacuuming that was going on).
  • Longish pastoral consultation with the Dean, over yet another "range of concerns."
  • Brief consultation with the Communicator over our database issue.
  • Processed the hard-copy items on my desk, and some late-arriving emails.
  • Consulted with the Administrator about available resources, and formulated a plan for seminarian financial aid for 2019. Emailed the affected seminarians.
  • Lunch from Pie's the Limit (a pizza place), eaten in the office.
  • Took the YFNBmobile in for a scheduled service appointment at the Mazda dealer. Synergized by doing laps around Wal*Mart to get steps in. Hit my 10K goal for the first time in several days, an effect of the severe cold.
  • Back to the office, and then right back out to the AT&T store to solve a tech issue that had become an emergency (couldn't get my phone to charge), I'm now the proud owner of a new charger. I had been afraid I might need a new phone.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with "nodal events" in February.
  • Did a lectio divina on the daily office OT reading for the Feast of the Presentation (tomorrow).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner at Obed & Issac's, followed by a scrumptious organ concert at the Roman cathedral.