Friday, May 31, 2019

Visitation of the BVM

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

Ascension

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rogation Wednesday

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tuesday (Christ the High Priest)

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter

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

Sermon for Easter VI (Rogation)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia and Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday (Jackson Kemper)

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thursday

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


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wednesday

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tuesday (St Alcuin)

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter

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

Sermon for Easter V

St John’s, Decatur--John 13:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let that sink in. It's important.

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

Does this come as a relief to anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thursday

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tuesday

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Thursday (St Gregory Nazianzus)

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wednesday (Julian of Norwich)

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Tuesday

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter

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

Sermon for Easter III

Alton Parish--John 21:1-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Saturday (St Monnica)

Allowed myself a bit of a "lie-in" in my office encampment. Emerged around 0800 to read Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Then motored over to IHOP on the west side for a leisurely breakfast. Returned, did my personal ablutions, continued processing hard-copy items on my desk, took care of a handful of emails. At 1100, met for about 90 minutes with one of our postulants, to discuss his theological formation process. Changed into casual attire and headed out for some personal shopping errands (my old familiar Springfield patterns still appeal to me more than my newer Chicago ones.) Back to the office, packed up, and hit the road southbound around 3pm. Arrived at the Hampton Inn in Alton about 90 minutes later. Got settled, changed back into uniform, send a couple of texts, and made my way down the hill to "lower Alton" (which is having a too-close encounter with the Mississippi River at the moment) and joined the MLT and Rector (and spouses) of Alton Parish for dinner. I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Friday

  • Broke camp in my office and headed across the alley for Morning Prayer around 0730.
  • With a stop at the McD's drive-thru, took the YFNBmobile down to Green Mazda and dropped it off for scheduled maintenance. Caught an Uber back to the office.
  • Culled hard-copy accumulation, processed email, triaged tasks, and otherwise organized my day.
  • Attended the regular semi-annual meeting of the diocesan trustees.
  • Went to lunch with Fr Mark Evsns. We walked over to Obed & lsaac's.
  • Sat down to process email and got a phone call from the Mazda dealer saying my car was ready. Fr Evans drove me down there to get it.
  • Met for two hours with three clergy of the diocese for a second go-round of mystagogy, extending what we explored on the clergy retreat in February. There will be more. It was a rich time.
  • Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral (each of which is represented by a glorious stained-glass window in the chancel), followed by Evening Prayer.
  • Waled to Joe Gallina's and had pizza for dinner.
  • Addressed an administrative issue by email.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Friday (St Athanasius)

The start to the day was normal, but, aside from a handful of email and text exchanges (and one brief phone call), the day was consumed by personal chores and errands: getting a haircut, keeping appointments with my doctor and my therapist, and a health-related shopping errand with Brenda. Then, per usual, I loaded up and headed south right at 7pm and arrived right on schedule at my office encampment in Springfield at 10:30.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Ss Philip & James

  • Customary early-AM weekday routine.
  • Performed some routine change-of-month calendar maintenance.
  • Devoted some time and energy toward trying to figure out the best way to proceed toward maximizing the effectiveness of the diocesan communications apparatus.
  • Made an appointment for then YFNBmobile to be serviced on Friday.
  • Via an email exchange, made some incremental progress in a Christian formation project that is dear to my heart.
  • Wrestled with the readings for Pentecost until I forced them to yield a homiletical message statement for the occasion (which will occur at St Michael's, O'Fallon).
  • Lunch from Subway, eaten at home.
  • Turned my attention to the pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage that I've been working on. 
  • Laid it aside to take Brenda to a post-surgical checkup. Then we leveraged the fact that we were out and about on foot to turn the endeavor into a proper walk.
  • Returned to the writing project and ended up with a rough draft of the next segment.
  • Posted some material to the diocesan website regarding the Thy Kingdom Come Novena that we'll be participating in again between Ascension and Pentecost.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.