Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Lord's Day (III Pentecost)

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

Sermon for Proper 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you decided to follow Jesus?

Amen.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ss Peter & Paul

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

Friday, June 28, 2019

Saturday (St Iranaeus)

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday (Our Lady of Perpetual Help)

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tuesday

  • Usual weekday early AM routine.
  • Carefully read another in the series of catechetical pamphlets published by the Living Church Foundation. So far, so good. About five more to go.
  • Spent the rest of the morning roughing out (in considerable detail, though my next post for the Covenant blog, due next week.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Plotted a course toward preaching at a "side gig" at the Church of the Ascension in Chicago on August 11, when I don't have a visitation in the diocese.
  • Attended via a email to a couple of pastoral-administrative matters.
  • Took advantage of the sunshine and warmth to empty a bottle of herbicide on the volunteer greenery where only concrete should be around our building.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon working on my sexuality and marriage teaching document. I continue to be pleased with how it's coming. But it's a long slog.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday

Once in a great while, probably due to inept planning on my part, I finish all the ministry-related actions I had planned for the week. That happened this morning after I knocked out a couple of emails. So I turned my attention to a looming domestic to-do list, and made a few inroads. The same will apply tomorrow, and since this Sunday is a "bye" on my visitation calendar, I take a break from this space in the blogsphere until Tuesday.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Corpus Christi

  • Usual working weekday early morning routine.
  • Dialed into a video conference of the board of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, and devoted most of my attention to that for the next 90 minutes.
  • Worked the rest of the morning on my pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Prepared a homily for Proper 11 (July 22), when I will be on vacation, but preaching in my "home parish" of St Timothy's in Salem, OR, which sent me and my family off to Nashotah House 33 years ago--that is, I reworked one from several years ago, but saw it all the way through the refining and printing stage.
  • Carefully read another in the Living Church catechetical series.
  • Throughout the day, whatever I was doing was frequently punctuated by email volleys over a couple of administrative issues.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday

A rather normal work-from-home weekday at both ends, and much of the middle, but with an unusually high degree of unanticipated emails and phone calls that had to be handled on the fly and were never part of my planned to-do list. I did deal with some deployment issues, respond to a late Ember Day letter, do some routine calendar maintenance, install some straggling software (the music publisher Finale) that failed to migrate from the old laptop, and finish catching up on deferred blog reading. Brenda and I also got a nice walk in before the weather went south. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tuesday (Bernard Mizeki)

  • Usual early AM weekday routine.
  • Caught up on a handful of administrative chores by email (personnel, companion diocese, mystagogy project, inter alia). None were particularly huge but none were particularly small, either. It consumed most of the morning.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Began to study a new set of catechetical resources now available through the Living Church Foundation, toward the end of being able to recommend them knowledgeably to the clergy of the diocese.
  • Read the Mission Strategy Report from one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Attended to another administrative issue. Dashed off a note to the Chancellor.
  • Began to catch up on some backlogged blog reading. 
  • Left around 5pm with Brenda for Wrigley Field, where we took in a Cubs game with a group of alumni of Westmont College, our alma mater. We were sure we would be the oldest ones there, but there turned out to be one older, and he was my Resident Assistant in the dorm I lived in my freshman and sophomore years!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday

It felt like a leisurely morning, since we didn't have any significant driving to do, and things didn't get started at Trinity, Mt Vernon until 0930. So, after clearing out of the Doubletree and enjoying the breakfast buffet, we headed over to the church,. It was my joy to lead the final adult class of the program year, then preside and preach at the Mass for the parish's feast of title, followed by a hamburger-and-hot dog cookout on a warm and sultry day. Brenda and I were back on the road northbound right at 1pm, arriving home at 5:45, having covered 275 miles and a 30-degree drop in temperature. Summer has so far been elusive in Chicagoland.

Sermon for Trinity Sundaty

Trinity, Mt Vernon--Revelation 4:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, John 16: 5-15

It comes as no news flash, I’m sure, that there are people in the society around us who are skeptical about some of the claims that Christianity makes, about the beliefs that Christians share. In response to this, Christians have developed certain counter-arguments that attempt to refute those objections, and show how they are inconsistent or incoherent. This activity is known as apologetics. Books have been written about apologetics; you can take classes in it. Of all the challenges that a Christian apologist must face, by far the most daunting is the problem of pain, the problem of evil: How can a good God let such horrible things happen to innocent people?

But I would strongly suspect that the second most challenging issue in Christian apologetics is the theology of the Trinity. For Jews and Muslims—that is, for about a third of the world’s population—it’s sheer blasphemy. To them, it sounds like Christians worship three gods, rather than the one true and living God, the God of Abraham. And to those whose religious opinions are loosely formed by our loosely Christian culture, but who are not themselves actively practicing Christians, the notion of the Trinity seems like an arcane intellectual exercise, one that doesn’t have any relevance to the ordinary everyday lives of ordinary everyday people. Why does Christianity have to be so complicated, with the Son being “begotten” by the Father, though not in any way created by the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceeding” from the Father—or is it the Father and the Son?—well, that depends on who you talk to(!), and the question has been one that for centuries has kept certain Christians from being able to share the Body and Blood of Christ at the same altar with certain other Christians. Can’t we just call the whole thing off? Certainly something as complex and sensitive as Trinitarian theology is not something God would insist we believe in, right?

That’s an excellent question, actually. So let’s pick it apart and see if we can find something that gets us excited, something that hits us where we live—or at least makes us thankful—on this Trinity Sunday. If we did not have the traditional orthodox articulation of God as “trinity of persons in unity of being,” if we dispensed with the habit of thinking of God as, in a sense, a “community,” “the godhead,” with the persons of the Trinity in harmonious balance with one another, what would be the downside risks? What would we lose?

What would happen, for instance, if we were to de-emphasize the person of God the Father, and turn our focus to God incarnate—that is, Jesus, a human being we can relate to—along with the Holy Spirit, whom we could understand as just another way of talking about the ongoing presence of Jesus in our midst? What we would get is an extremely inward-focused version of the faith that would take on the characteristics that we associate with a cult—strong ties between members that are not of the healthy sort, very clannish, turned inward, with very little concern for the surrounding world. This closeness would be based on a shared experience of an intense personal relationship with Jesus and an ecstatic experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. Something very dark is unleashed, though, when we give up a balanced Trinitarian theology that appreciates the first person of the Trinity, God the Father, and his sovereign redemptive purpose for the entire created order. It is such an appreciation for the Fatherhood of God that keeps us from turning inward and collapsing into irrelevance, and, instead, turns our attention outward to the world God made and the world God loves and the world God wants to redeem.  

So, what happens, then, if we allow the second person of the Holy Trinity—God the Son—to slip through the cracks, and organize our worship of God and service to God only around the Father and the Holy Spirit? What would happen is that we would lose our connection with the means that God has chosen to redeem the world that he made and loves—namely, the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one of God, God’s eternal Word forever made flesh. In short, we would lose our connection with the Paschal Mystery—“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” or “We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” There would be little motivation to celebrate the Eucharist, because we would have lost contact with the mystery that the Eucharist puts us in touch with. Our practice of Christian religion would be reduced to a line from a popular hymn, now deleted from our own hymnal: “Father-love is reigning o’er us, brother-love binds man to man.” We would come together on Sundays, more or less out of habit, to worship a generic God, and try to cooperate with what we perceive as the spirit of that God by attempting to solve the social ills of the world by the force of our own wills and the sweat of our own brows, taking such inspiration as we can from well-meant but theologically-misguided exhortations like “We must make God’s work truly our own.” Without Christ, without the second person of the Trinity, we would find ourselves failing at trying to serve a God who wants to save us but can’t quite figure out how to do so. The Church would be little more than a do-gooders club.

And what, then, if we hang on to the Father and the Son, but let loose of the Holy Spirit as excess baggage? After all, the Holy Spirit is the least well-understood person of the Godhead, and seems more of a cheerleader than anything else. If we have to “downsize” God to make Christianity more intelligible to those in the world around us, maybe giving God the Holy Spirit a layoff notice is the way to go. Well, what we would be left with, I’m afraid, is a version of Christian religion that very few of us would find appealing or get very excited about. It would be a very dry, very rigid form of Christian orthodoxy that may have all the right i’s dotted and all the right t’s crossed but is incapable of giving life because it doesn’t scratch where anybody actually itches. It looks great on paper but it doesn’t change any lives. Why? Because it doesn’t have the wind of the Holy Spirit to deliver its message to the right set of ears at the right moment. It doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit that can pierce through the defensive armor that people cover themselves with when they sense that God is getting too close. The Father wills to save, and the Son provides the means of salvation, but without the Holy Spirit to deliver the package, nobody gets saved. Instead, everybody just gets bored. There’s nothing less exciting or interesting than the practice of Christianity without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

So, knowing God as trinity of persons in unity of being is, I hope we can see from these brief reflections, critical to our experience of who God is and what God is up to and how God intends to accomplish his purposes. Yet, even though the theology of the Trinity informs our thinking about God, it is never an end in itself. Thinking correctly about God is important, but it doesn’t get us where we need to go. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity is always configured toward the worship of the Trinity. Our celebration of Trinity Sunday is not about the doctrine of the Trinity—it’s about the Trinity. That may seem like a small distinction, but it’s not. It’s huge. Both Isaiah’s vision of heaven and John’s vision of heaven in Revelation are all about worship, both have the heavenly hosts singing “Holy, holy, holy…”. So there’s every reason under heaven for those same words to be crossing our lips as they will in a few minutes, even as we are here and now gathered as a microcosm of the worship of the heavenly hosts assembled around the throne of God the Father, with God the Son standing as a sacrificial lamb who has tasted and conquered death, and God the Holy Spirit energizing the hearts and lips of the faithful to offer hymns of unceasing praise. Only the worship of the triune God keeps us faithful, in a balanced way, to the truth of the triune God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Saturday (Evelyn Underhill)

Indulged in a leisurely morning. Interacted with a handful of ministry-related emails, but otherwise just puttered around the apartment attending to domestic chores. It was too rainy to walk. Mid-afternoon, we packed up and headed down I-57 to Mt Vernon, arriving around 9pm. The weather is much nicer in downstate Illinois.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday (St Basil)

  • Devotions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, internet cruising, rough email processing, and task planning on the back patio, not because the weather was particularly nice (it was actually quite chilly), but because I wanted to be there right when the recycling haulers arrived so I could immediately retrieve the cans into the garage and prevent unknown malefactors from depositing their own recycling into *our* cans. Yes, that is a thing, and, yes, I have become "that guy." My mission, by the way, was accomplished. #urbanlife
  • Had a substantive phone conversation with one of our clerics over an administrative-pastoral issue.
  • Responded to a couple of late-arriving emails.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (Trinity, Mt Vernon).
  • Responded by email to a request for a phone appointment with one of our canonically-resident military chaplains.
  • Lunch slightly on the early side from the Chinese takeout place around the corner.
  • Stepped out for a 1:00pm appointment with my psychotherapist.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon before Evening Prayer working on my in-progress pastoral teaching on sexuality and marriage.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thursday

  • Usual weekday AM routine,
  • Took care of some preliminary details pertaining to a planned trip to Cuba next spring with my Class of 2011 bishop colleagues.
  • Read and responded to more Ember Day letters. I'm pretty impressed with our present group of postulants and candidates.
  • Stepped out for a while to get a haircut,
  • Lunch of leftovers, on the late side.
  • Spent the afternoon doing master sermon planning for the fall (Propers 17-29). This is laborious and time-consuming (including reviewing a bunch of old material to determine whether it can be successfully freshened; this time around, the answer was No about 60% of the time, which means I'll have to develop new material for those occasions).
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • More work via email on the Corpus Christi liturgy.
  • Read and responded to a stack of Ember Day letters from postulants and candidates for Holy Orders (as is their canonical obligation to write them).
  • Took and initial prayerful-close-reading pass at the readings for Proper 16, in preparation for preaching on them on the third weekend of August at St Mary's, Robinson.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended to an administrative issue with respect to one of our parishes that shares its facilities with a congregation of another brand name.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft Mission Statement and 2019 goals for the team that is presently doing the work of the diocesan archivist. We have some rather amazing challenges and opportunities in our archives.
  • Attended by email to some administrative concerns over a human resources issues.
  • Continued a dialogue volley over the ongoing "mystagogy" project.
  • Attended to a brief bit of business pertaining to my board membership in the Society of King Charles the Martyr.
  • Took the last hour before Evening Prayer to make another increment of progress is bringing order to my chaotic basement. Rain prevented taking a walk today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

St Barnabas

Fairly efficient post-day off back-in-the-saddle day: Lots of administrative details by email and some deep-in-the-weeds liturgy planning for the celebration of Corpus Christi at the cathedral on the 20th. Sadly, too much of the afternoon was frustratingly consumed by waiting to get my wrist X-rayed (toward the end of treating an 18-month old injury). Somehow I got lost in the bureaucratic system and, had I not nagged somebody behind a desk, I might still be waiting there.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost

Having driven to O'Fallon yesterday, it was just a short drive from the Hilton Garden to St Michael's for their regular 0930 celebration of the Eucharist. Presided, preached,  confirmed three adults, and partook of a delicious post-liturgical repast in the parish hall. Grateful for the pastoral leadership of Fr Ian Wetmore in that place. We drove straight home to Chicago afterward, arriving at 4:30pm.

Homily for Pentecost

St Michael’s, O’Fallon--Romans 8:14–17


If you’re on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you probably know what a “meme” is. In social media, a meme is a graphic image with a pithy saying or quotation overlaid on top of it. I would be willing to bet that, if we were to open the Facebook timeline of anybody in this church today, we wouldn’t have to scroll more than about ten minutes before finding a meme that uses the expression “child of God” or “children of God.” And I can virtually guarantee you that the assumption of that meme is that the label “child of God” applies to every single human being, because … of course all people are children of God, right? I mean, we just intuitively know that, don’t we? Everyone is a child of God … especially actual children. To say otherwise would feel almost … well, heretical … wouldn’t it?

Well, I’m standing before you today ready to be a heretic, ready to challenge that assumption. Not every person is a child of God. I say this with some confidence, however, because I believe I have a formidable ally in one no less eminent that St Paul the Apostle. Now, I’m probably being more provocative than I need to be, so stay with me, and we’ll get this straightened out. Just put the question on the shelf for a few minutes, and we’ll come back to it.

It should come as no particular news flash that most people in our society—which is to say, most people in the developed world, people who are at least “relatively affluent” if not “filthy rich” in comparison to most of this planet’s population—most people in our society suffer from chronic spiritual anxiety. This is my anecdotal experience, at any rate, not any kind of scientific poll. Most of us carry around some mixture of uncertainty and/or doubt and/or guilt and/or anger.

Even many professed Christians get caught up in this net, which is both interesting and troubling. Supposedly, faith should serve as a sort of hedge against spiritual anxiety. Faith should ground us in our sense of who we are in relation to who God is and make us feel secure when it comes to questions of meaning and purpose in life. Yet, many who consider themselves Christians don’t feel like they have such grounding and security. Why is that? Why is it that some people have faith that doesn’t seem to “work”? When a pediatrician sees a baby who is not gaining weight appropriately, not growing in the expected ways, the phrase “failure to thrive” is sometimes used. In my pastoral experience, I would diagnose many Christians whom I’ve met with “failure to thrive” spiritually.

I can’t stand here and tell you that I have the complete and unassailable answer to why some Christians fail to thrive. But I do have a theory, and I’m actually pretty confident about it. It’s a matter of not availing ourselves of the resources that are right in front of us. Too often, we are lax in our embrace of the Paschal Mystery, and in making ourselves available to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We have a dim awareness of the identity we were given when we were baptized, that we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” We are blasé about our participation in the Holy Eucharist. We don’t attend to the scriptures that are read in the liturgy. We don’t notice the words of the hymns we sing, or, worse yet, don’t even sing them. In behaving this way, we are like a desperately hungry baby who simply refuses to eat. We effectively alienate ourselves from the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cut ourselves off from the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Fortunately, there’s another way to live. What are the habits of those Christians who seem to thrive spiritually, who have a robust faith, who, despite the challenges and roadblocks and trials that life sends their way, are able to remain centered and purposeful and … yes … even joyful in the midst of it all. These are Christians who regularly expose themselves to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. They embrace and configure their lives to the mystery that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” They don’t just coast spiritually, but are disciplined in their spiritual practice, with good habits of spiritual self-care. They are obedient disciples of Jesus, having come to the realization that they no longer belong to themselves, but have been bought with a price, the price of Christ’s blood. They are consumed with a passion for revealing and advancing the Kingdom of God. They suffer as much as, or often more than, other Christians, but their suffering is not meaningless; rather, it is redemptive, because their suffering is offered to and united with the suffering of the crucified Christ.

Such Christians are spiritually enlivened. St Paul, in writing to the Romans, says that the Holy Spirit “bears witness with our spirits that we are”—now, wait for it, because I told you I’d circle back—“that we are children of God.”  In effect, Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit “sings a duet” with our own spirits. Think of Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole “recording” a duet together even when one of them was no longer physically present in this world—or Sonny and Cher, or Donny and Marie or … I’m sure somebody here can think of an example a little more contemporary than these!

When we are enlivened by the good habits of spiritual practice that are available to us, the Holy Spirit sings a duet with our spirit, bearing witness that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit persuades us of our status as children of God, which is not our default state. God loves every woman, man, and child who has ever lived, infinitely and passionately. Every human life is precious in God’s sight. I don’t want you to think I’m saying otherwise. But that doesn’t make all people “children of God.” To be a child of God is a status conferred in the waters of baptism and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Now, to be uber-correct, the word Paul uses is “sons”—the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits, persuading us that we are sons of God. Now, this isn’t casual sexism on Paul’s part. Rather, it’s a recognition that, in the ancient Roman world where Paul lived, only sons were legally allowed to inherit property. So what Paul is saying the Holy Spirit persuades us of is that all of us who are baptized into Christ, male or female, have a status in relation to God equivalent to that of a son in the Roman world. “And,” he goes on, “if sons, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

So … why choose to fail to thrive spiritually? It’s completely unnecessary. We have more resources for spiritual vitality right in front of us than we can even imagine. We have the riches of the Paschal Mystery at our fingertips. We need only partake. We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, and the singing Holy Spirit tells us so. We need only rest in that identity.

Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Saturday

Did some followup on Brenda's medical needs in the morning, and otherwise attended to domestic concerns. Then, around 2:3opm, we loaded up the YFNBmobile and headed south to O'Fallon, with a dinner stop in Champaign, arriving at 8:30. Ready for tomorrow's visitation to St Michael's.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday

With my weekend now suddenly reconfigured, the main event of the day was to get Brenda some medical attention. That took all of the morning and most of the afternoon. Long story short: Another low-sodium episode. It's a mystery what causes it, because she literally eats salt by the spoonful. So there's still a lot of following up to do. As for any actual productivity on my part, I did manage to do the finish work on my Pentecost homily (day after tomorrow at St Michael's, O'Fallon, and process a handful of emails. Not the way I would have chosen to spend the day, but we have to take these things as they come. God is good.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Thursday

I packed and hit the road southbound at 0930--earlier than usual because I had made a 2:30pm commitment to an ecumenical guest appearance to bring greetings to the Annual Assembly of the Central and Southern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was a joy to do so, as I enjoy a warm collegial friendship with Bishop John Roth. I then had an interview with a candidate for the Communications Coordinator position, which resulted in a mutual Yes on the matter, so we have made a hire. Stay tuned! We then sat with Sue for a while to take care of some of the administrative details. 

Through the day, however, a situation was brewing with Brenda's health than resulted in several texts and phone calls with our children, and then a phone conversation with our family doctor, and finally a decision on my part to head back to Chicago, so I can take her in for some tests in the morning. As it happens, I had nothing on my calendar for tomorrow or Saturday anyway, so the disruption is minimal. I'm still planning on making my scheduled Sunday visitation to St Michael's, O'Fallon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday (St Boniface)

The day began normally, but was soon hijacked by a domestic plumbing emergency (leaky kitchen faucet) the necessitated a trip to Home Depot and the creation of an account with Task Rabbit. When back and able to get my day organized, I returned a phone call from a colleague bishop, answered an email question from a person in the ordination process, and worked on my ongoing mystagogy project--an effort to embed a certain mindset and approach to catechesis and formation into the culture of the diocese. Lunched on leftovers. Synergized the need to get a walk in with the need to run a health-related shopping errand. Got back and devoted attention to my Trinity Sunday homily (to be delivered at Trinity, Mt Vernon), emerging with a draft that I can refine next week. By then it was time to greet and be available to the "task rabbit" (a nice guy names Brian)  who successfully installed a new kitchen faucet. Evening Prayer with Brenda. Grilled tri-tip on the patio with the extended family.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday

The big rocks on the days schedule were four pre-existing healthcare appointments: three for me (physical therapy [the course of treatment now concluded], occupational therapy [for an old wrist injury], and my primary doctor) and one for Brenda (cardiology followup). Around those commitments, I managed to do significant reconstructive surgery on an old homily for Proper 8 (June 30 at St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel), interact via several text messages with one of our clerics, and trade emails, with substantive comments, with the rectors of two parishes with June visitations.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Up and out of my Effingham hotel room right at 0700, headed for an eventual arrival in Albion in time for the regular 0900 celebration of the Eucharist at St John's, which still takes place in the historic church building constructed in 1842,, only 24 years after Illinois statehood. The community is ably cared for by Fr Bill Howard. After visiting with folks following the liturgy, I was on the road northbound at 1045 and arrived home in Chicago at 4pm.

Sermon for Easter VII

St Johns, Albion--John 17:20-26

Imagine, if you will, a United States Army as it might exist in the wishful fantasy of an infantry soldier. In this army, enlistees would be permitted to “shop” for a convenient basic training location, and for a compatible drill sergeant. They would then be allowed to pick which unit they wanted to serve in. If things don’t work out the way they expect, if there is bad personal chemistry with their commanding officer, they can look around for more suitable arrangements, and approve their own transfer. There is a broad consensus that this is the Army, and it’s supposed to be about defending our national interests, but beyond such generalities, there is little concrete agreement about what the mission and objective of the army is. Orders are given—sometimes they’re obeyed and sometimes not, depending on the disposition of the one receiving them.

While this might be a wonderful daydream in the mind of Beetle Bailey peeling a mountain of potatoes, subject to the whimsical wrath of his sergeant, it’s not any kind of army you or I would want defending us. As a fighting force, it would be completely undisciplined, lacking integrity, and totally ineffective. It would not be one army, but a collection of essentially self-absorbed individuals and informal coalitions … with guns! Potential attackers would hold it in contempt, and rather than being deterred from attacking our country, they would be encouraged to do so.

Throughout scripture, the people of God are many times portrayed as an army. In the Old Testament, this was often true in a literal sense. In the New Testament, it’s only a metaphor, but a very significant metaphor. Just like an army, the Church’s credibility in the eyes of the world depends on internal discipline, a coherent sense of mission, and an effectiveness that comes only from unity of purpose.

In the creeds, we profess our belief in ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. In our present circumstances, however, it takes a tremendous amount of imagination to make that statement. In the New Testament itself, we read of division in the church, of jealousy and rivalry and competing ministries. In the fourth century, more than a few cities had two bishops, neither one recognizing the other. In the eleventh century, there was the Great Schism that divided east from west. Even today, the Pope can’t visit Greece without arousing all kinds of hurt feelings from that schism of nearly a thousand years ago. In the sixteenth century, the western half of the church was dashed on the rocks of the Protestant Reformation, starting a chain reaction of division that is still growing in size and intensity. Today, the number of distinct Christian denominations numbers in—are you ready for this?—distinct Christian denominations number in the hundreds of thousands.

It is in such an environment, such a context, that we encounter the long and poignant prayer offered by Jesus on the eve of his death, and recorded for us in St John’s gospel. It is known as the “High Priestly” prayer, because, in it, Jesus intercedes with his Father as a priest on behalf of us, his people. And the one thing he prays for, above all else, is the unity of the church. But he has a very specific purpose in this request: “I do not pray for these only...” —in other words, it’s not just for the sake of the church’s members that he prays for the church— “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus is quite clear here—is he not?—that the Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are not yet part of the Church. Outreach in evangelism and service are not ancillary to the church’s mission; they are the church’s mission. Most of us know this intellectually, but it’s a challenge to put into practice. When considering a change in parish program, clergy and lay leaders are more apt to ask, “What will the members think?”, rather than “What will most effectively advance our mission?” For clergy in particular, it takes some degree of courage to begin to treat parishioners as co-laborers, members of the same team, with a common objective, and a disciplined attitude in pursuit of that objective. Too often, it is an irresistible temptation to revert to a mental model in which parishioners are clients in need of professional services, as passengers on a cruise ship, rather than as crew members. (I should add that what I’m talking about is probably less likely in a community like St John’s than it is in a larger parish.) Even more damaging is the model which we so easily import from our secular experience, in which the Church is seen as a voluntary association that we can join and unjoin—or go “inactive”— as we see fit, much like a fraternity or sorority or service club or lodge or sports program. Only the church generally makes fewer demands than such organizations!

What Jesus is telling us, however, through his high-priestly prayer, is that God’s loving disposition toward mankind is clearly revealed to the precise extent that the Church is One—united as a highly-disciplined and well-trained army in the pursuit of an unambiguous objective. To the extent—and we have to admit, for the time being, it’s only a partial extent—to the extent that the Church manifests concrete, visible unity, our witness to the world has integrity and power. In Eucharistic Prayer ‘D’, which gets used pretty rarely in my experience, which is a shame—in Eucharistic Prayer D we ask God, on behalf of His holy catholic Church, to “reveal its unity.”

Reveal its unity.

When Pope John Paul did visit Greece about 30 years ago, his purpose was not to stir up resentment and competitiveness between churches, but because he hoped that, as an eastern European himself, he might be instrumental in the healing of the thousand year breach between east and west, that the Church may yet, in his words, “breathe with both her lungs.” What a wonderful image that is, not only for the east-west division, but for all our divisions—between churches, within churches, even within dioceses and parishes. The unity we seek has many levels—it must begin with simple charity and goodwill and mutual respect. But we must not be content with that level of unity. We want it to proceed to unity around the essentials of the gospel, the fundamental beliefs revealed in scripture and expressed in the creeds.

But we must not be content with even that level of unity. We want it to proceed to the level of sacramental fellowship, in which we fully recognize one another’s members and ministers and gather around the same table to share fully in the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is itself the very sign of unity. That would indeed be a level of unity that surpasses any of our presently realistic hopes for our own lifetime. But even if that level were to be achieved, we would not want to rest on our laurels. We would want to press on to full visible, institutional, and organizational unity, so that there is but one Church of Jesus Christ in the world, speaking with one voice, that the world may know God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

Such unity will require humility and courage of the sort that can only be a gift of divine grace. It will require the attitude expressed so eloquently by the Anglican bishops gathered in the Lambeth Conference of 1888, where they said that, once unity in matters of substance has been achieved, matters of style must not be allowed to keep us apart, and that toward such an end, “this church stands ready to forego all preferences of her own.” For our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends, this will require a hard look at their claims of exclusivity, each believing itself to be “the one true church.” For Lutherans and other mainline Protestants, it will mean accepting the ministry of bishops in the historic apostolic succession, and there have been significant steps in that direction by Lutherans. For evangelical Protestants, it will mean a lot more structure and accountability than they might presently be comfortable with. And for us, as Anglicans, the challenge is to make peace once again with the idea of a universal earthly leader of the Church, and it makes as much sense as any other idea for this leader to be the Bishop of Rome, in whatever way the role of the Pope might need to be reconfigured to make that work. We all have room to give, room to grow.

When, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are able to indeed lay aside “all preferences of [our] own,” the effectiveness of the Church’s ministry and mission will explode. We will see the continuing evangelization of Africa and Asia. We will see the re-evangelization of Europe and North America. Jesus’s high-priestly prayer will be answered, and God will be glorified.

Pray, brothers and sisters, pray. Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Saturday (St Justin Martyr)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Breakfast at Charlie Parker's.
  • Began working on notes to clergy with "nodal events" in June.
  • Met with the head of the Search Committee from St Andrew's, Carbondale to discuss the territory ahead during their pastoral transition.
  • Grabbed a lunch of fried fish from Carter's Fish Market on South Grand Avenue East and brought it back to the office to eat while I watched a show on Netflix.
  • Got back to writing the notes to clergy. It was quite a stack: on the light side with birthdays, but a TON of June ordination anniversaries (five on the 29th alone).
  • Dealt by email with a small administrative issue.
  • Straightened up my desk and credenza.
  • Responded to an application for the Communicator position.
  • Did a bit of routine personal organization.
  • Took a brisk long walk up Second Street to North Grand Avenue, over the Sixth, and back down.
  • Packed up and headed to Effingham for the night. Dinner at Friday's.