Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tuesday (St Teresa of Àvila)

  • Usual early morning stuff. Dealt with a couple of pastoral-administrative matters via a email exchanges.
  • Until mid-afternoon, with an interlude to take Brenda to a cardiology appointment, my attention was devoted to the finish work on three oral presentations in my near future: a sermon at the synod Eucharist on Friday, a "state-of-the-diocese" address to synod on Saturday, and a sermon at St Paul's, Carlinville on Sunday.
  • Took a substantial brisk walk.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Burned through a half dozen or so disparate ministry-related items, either through reading something or writing something, or both.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVIII Pentecost)

Out the door and on the road with Brenda right at 0700 ahead of a nice and relatively easy drive down I-57 to Rantoul. We arrived at St Christopher's about 0905, and joined their regular 0930 liturgy. There was an excellent turnout for that small congregation, with attendance of 26, a good percentage of whom were youngsters, including a couple of babies. It's always great to see signs of new life in a community like this one. After a good time of post-liturgical visiting, we were bank on the road northbound at 1130, and home around 3:00, with a lunch stop in Kankakee.

Sermon for Proper 23

St Christopher’s, Rantoul--Luke 17:11–19

We’re in the section of Luke’s gospel now, from sometime this past summer up until the beginning of Advent, that is sometimes referred to as the “travelogue.” Today’s reading is from Chapter 17, but back in Chapter 9 is the incident at Caesarea Philippi—which is way in the extreme north of the territory that Jesus walked around in with his followers—an incident that you’re probably familiar with, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter finally gives the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Shortly after that, the text tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” which is way in the south, and where he would, of course, suffer and die. So Jesus and his disciples are on a long and slow journey toward Jerusalem. Today his route takes him through an unnamed village. Just like any other traveler, Jesus and company are subject to the random events that travelers are subject to; you never know in advance the details of what’s going to happen on any given day of travel. As I drive through the diocese, I have no certain knowledge concerning the details of traffic or weather or construction or reckless drivers or … whatever.

In Jesus’ case, one of these random events is an encounter with ten lepers, who hailed him from a distance. Now leprosy is surely the single disease most frequently mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. In any given instance, it may or may not be what we now know as Hansen’s Disease, which is where flesh gets gradually eaten away, causing some awful disfigurements. It may, sometimes, be something more like eczema or a really bad skin rash; we just don’t know. What we do know is that, under Jewish law, anyone who had what might look like leprosy was commanded to self-exile, to stay away from normal society, and hang out only with other lepers. So these ten lepers were a sort of roving band of outcasts, on a rather more aimless journey than Jesus, and their random event on a day of travel was to run into Jesus, which they probably thought was a huge stroke of good luck because, by that time, Jesus had a widespread reputation as a healer

If we pause to reflect, we can recognize brief, or sometimes not so brief, encounters with God—with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit—in the midst of the randomness of our lives: from the beauty of a sunset to a hoped-for outcome from surgery to circumstances just lining up the right way—you know, those moments when we say, “It’s got to be a God thing”—particularly when there’s a clear answer to prayer. We approach God in prayer just as the ten lepers called out to Jesus, because we know he is able to deliver us from our afflictions, and to give us the strength to endure them with grace.

Jesus heals the lepers, as is his custom whenever anybody asks for healing, but, in this case, he does so rather indirectly. Instead of some dramatic gesture, like spitting on the ground or crying out with a loud voice, he simply assumes the outcome of his action without saying anything about it. He tells the lepers: Go and show yourself to the priest—that is, the legally authorized judge of whether they are, in fact, lepers. In the course of obeying Jesus, the lepers notice that they are healed.

There are two lessons to be drawn here, I think—one lesser and one greater. The lesser lesson is that bit about “in the course of obeying Jesus”: the lepers didn’t just stand there and get healed; they had to start moving, in obedience, before they experienced healing. Just as the proverbial “watched pot never boils,” it behooves us to attend to whether we are so fixated on our faithful petitions to God that we fail to see his presence and activity already among us and within us, and forget to act in his name. We can get so caught up in our awareness of our own needs that we miss seeing how God is already beginning to act to meet those needs.

The greater lesson is visible to us in the behavior of the one leper who, when he notices that his skin has cleared up, turns around and comes back to Jesus, falling at his feet in gratitude. I cannot help but imagine a subtle grin on Jesus’ face as he asks, in mock sarcasm, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Indeed, the one grateful leper was a Samaritan, an ethnic group that were considered “half-breeds” by the Jews, and were very much looked down-upon. Yet, this half-breed, this foreigner, was the one whose eyes were open to what he had experienced. He had been healed from leprosy, his defining condition, and his new defining condition was the result of his interaction with Jesus, the Anointed One of God.

When you and I were baptized, we had an encounter with that same Jesus, the Anointed One of God. We were brought to him as lepers, under the power of sin and death, marked as not worthy of existing in the community of the Kingdom of God. Then, we were given a new defining condition, that of being “in Christ,” sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. The appropriate response, just as it was for the leper, is thanksgiving. For this reason, we come together on the first day of every week, the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, to offer eucharist, to offer thanks, to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to the God who has healed and forgiven and redeemed us. It is not for no reason that the part of the Mass to which we will come in a few minutes is called the Great Thanksgiving.

One of the commentaries that I consulted in preparing this homily said that “Gratitude may be the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that ‘I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful.’” Indeed, gratitude is the fundamental disposition of a disciple. Gratitude begins when we truly see that God is present and active with us and in the world, just as the healed Samaritan did in the course of obeying Jesus and going to show himself to the priest. And gratitude is expressed as we begin to recognize how much God’s mercy has touched our lives, when we cultivate the habit of seeing and acting on the needs of those whose lives intersect with ours. We follow the example of the grateful Samaritan leper as we get out of ourselves and our own needs and open our eyes to Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday (St Philip the Deacon)

  • Usual early AM weekday routine, save that I elected to move my walk (which slipped through the cracks yesterday) to the front of the day, thus leveraging the mild temperatures, which will have dropped by some twenty degrees by late afternoon. All was brilliant until the last ten minutes of the walk, when the heavens opened and I arrived home drenched. Got cleaned up, then accompanied Brenda on her cat care chore.
  • Processed some late-arriving emails. Reviewed the PowerPoint slides the Communicator has prepared for my synod address next week.
  • Attended to another communications-related item.
  • Reached out to the priest-in-charge of one of the Eucharistic Communities I'm scheduled to visit soon just to confirm I'm still expected.
  • Had a fulsome conversation Bishop John Roth, my ELCA opposite number. I called him about a relatively small matter, but the conversation took off in several directions, which was quite enjoyable.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrestled with my notes on the readings for Proper 27 and wrung from them a homiletical message statement for my visitation to St Matthew's, Bloomington on November 10.
  • Attended to some travel details pertaining to my trip to Virginia Theology Seminary week after next for the meeting of the Living Church Foundation.
  • Took the barest sketch of a homily for the synod Eucharist next week all the way to a full rough draft.
  • Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday (St Paulinus of York)

  • Customary weekday routine.
  • First deep dive into liturgy planning for the clergy conference.
  • Processed a multi-faceted email from the Senior Warden of one of our communities in transition, which resulted in my taking a "supply" gig in the parish (the fifth I will have done in the last four months of the calendar year), which occasioned some remedial homiletical task planning.
  • Dashed off a note of condolence to one of our clergy who has suffered a death in the family.
  • Pushed an email message out to the diocesan clergy giving some details about the clergy conference. (They had received the registration materials from the Administrator yesterday.)
  • Picked up lunch from the Chinese place around the corner.
  • Worked on my sermon for Proper 24 (November 20 at St Paul's, Carlinville), bringing it from "developed outline" to "rough draft."
  • Continued an email dialogue with the presenter for next month's clergy conference.
  • Took care of some loose ends regarding lodging for Brenda and me either side of synod.
  • More email dialogue with a potential candidate for one of our vacant cures.
  • Spent the last hour before Evening Prayer on the never-ending project of basement organization. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday (Robert Grosseteste)

  • Customary weekday AM routine (augmented for a few days by the chore of going up to our daughter's apartment on the third floor and feeding her cat--formerly Brenda's--while she's vacationing in New York).
  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily (edit, refine, print, place output in car, schedule for posting on both blog iterations).
  • Continued email correspondence with a priest from outside the diocese who is interested in one of our openings.
  • Followed up on a handful of relatively small administrative tasks.
  • Turned my attention to (another relatively small) matter pertaining to next week's annual synod of the diocese.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Drafted a publicity blurb for next month's annual clergy conference. Vetted it via email with the presenter. Traded emails with the Administrator about the registration process.
  • Took another look at the synod Mass booklet and sent it off to the host parish for printing.
  • Burned through another handful of small administrative items--some requiring an outgoing email, some not.
  • Took a robust walk with Brenda on a quintessential October afternoon in the midwest--bright sunshine, cool enough to be clearly no longer summer, yet not at all unpleasantly cold. Our route took us through a lovely nearby nature preserve area.
  • Made a first drive-by of the propers for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, in preparation for preaching at St Andrew's, Carbondale on November 24.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Tuesday

  • Did my early morning stuff on the back patio after lighting the grill and otherwise preparing to smoke a brisket.
  • Took a phone call from a reporter seeking a comment on Bishop Beckwith's death.
  • Worked through a short stack of relatively small administrative items. 
  • Made a pastoral care phone call.
  • Circled back to check in with a priest from outside the diocese who has expressed an interest in working in Springfield.
  • Throughout all of this, checked periodically on the brisket.
  • Had an early-ish lunch of leftovers.
  • Out the door at 1230 to take Brenda to her acupuncture appointment. Back a little before 2:00.
  • Put together a draft of the liturgy booklet for the synod Eucharist. It all went smoothly (I had a document from a prior year to use as a template), but it was nonetheless time-consuming because it involved going online to purchase graphics file of service music from Church Publishing.
  • "Knocked off," as it were, around 3:30, in partial deference to catching up on the effects of being "in the job" for fourteen straight days. Took care of a handful of relatively minor domestic chores ... and continued to pay attention to the brisket.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • I guess I don't have to mention what we had for dinner! It turned out very well.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVII Pentecost)

Out the door of the Hilton Garden O'Fallon at 7:50 en route to a 0900 arrival 57 miles away at St Thomas', Salem. Presided and preached at their regular 0930 liturgy, not as a visitation, but as "supply priest" in the absence of Fr Baumann this weekend. Then, after a cameo appearance at coffee hour, it was on to St John's, Centralia, which Fr Baumann also takes care of, for their 1130 service. St John's worships jointly with the congregation of Redeemer Lutheran these days, under Fr Baumann's leadership, and today it was the ELCA liturgy and the Episcopal hymnal on the rota, so I tried to gamely adapt from my familiar routine with the BCP, and it seemed to go well. By around 1:45 I was back on the road northward, arriving home at 6:15. 

Sermon for Proper 21

St Thomas' Salem & St John's Centralia--Luke 17:5-10
       
A good many years ago, I, along with many thousands of others, was a dedicated listener to a talk show host who was quite popular at the time and more than a little bit controversial. I found out recently she’s still on the air, on satellite radio. I’m talking about Dr Laura Schlesinger, who is a dispenser of moral advice. I don’t always agree with her analysis of the issues and problems that her callers present to her, but I like her general philosophy, her underlying attitude. Dr Laura is very much about doing the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s embarrassing, even when it hurts. And, judging from the popularity of her program and books, there are apparently a good many people who are concerned about how they conduct themselves, concerned about “doing the right thing” in their interpersonal and public relationships.

There are, of course, of variety a reasons for wanting to “do the right thing”, some more or less worthy than others, some more or less appropriate than others. These range from wanting to move with the right crowd socially, to climbing the next rung in the corporate ladder, to looking for a source of self-esteem. One motivation that many have for being concerned with “doing the right thing” is the desire—although they might not always phrase it this way—the desire to please God. Now, even the motivation to please God itself has a whole range of sub-motivations. Some, in the movies at any rate, try to placate an angry deity by throwing a virgin into a volcano. Others try to manipulate an uncooperative God by performing just the right ritual or ceremony.
In our own cultural and religious tradition, a popular motivation for pleasing God has been the attempt to build up a sufficient number of “points”, enough “good deeds,” to secure admission to Heaven after passing from this mortal life.

Any way you look at it, though, the matter of pleasing God, the matter of “doing the right thing” with respect to our creator, is one of the fundamental religious questions that everyone has to some time come to terms with, in one way or another. And this is a question that even someone like Dr Laura cannot always help us with. As we search for the answer to this question, our hope is that by finding the key to pleasing God, God will then bless us, direct his favor onto our lives.

Sometimes this hoped-for blessing is quite temporal and material. When I lived in southern California in the ‘70s, there was a popular TV preacher who went by “Reverend Ike.” Reverend Ike taught that if you get your act together with respect to God, you'll be wearing mink and driving a Cadillac. (Those were the status symbols then; today it would be more like driving a Mercedes and owning a condo on Maui.) And if you were not financially prosperous, that was a sign that you weren't trying to please God in the right way, and if you wanted to get back on track, the place to start was by sending Reverend Ike a substantial check!

At other times, the blessing that we desire is spiritual and eternal. We want the assurance that, on the other side of the grave, we will not suffer the fate of the rich man in last Sunday's gospel parable, but will join Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

Doing the right thing.  Pleasing God.

Having send three children through college, and being married to someone who worked in university admissions office, I’m aware that the first early-decision acceptance letters for those who will start college in the fall of 2020 will begin arriving about three months from now. A few of the brightest and best and luckiest of this year's crop of high school seniors will be accepted everywhere they apply, and will even have colleges offering to pay them to attend.  It will be tempting for these fortunate young people with multiple acceptances and multiple scholarships to become just a little bit cocky. It will be tempting for them to adopt an attitude like, “Hey! Look at all I've done. They owe it to me.”

They owe it to me.  This is a crucial shift, a crucial move, from humility ... to arrogance.

It is equally possible, and equally tempting, for someone who is accomplished at “doing the right thing,” to make the same move with respect to God. “Hey, God, look at all I've done. You owe me your blessing. You owe me a Mercedes and a condo on Maui, you owe me admission to Heaven.” We take our cue from our own litigious society, where justice—what one person owes another—where justice is defined by the law, and interpreted and enforced by the court.

But, believe me, making such a move, trying to tell God what he owes us, is a bad idea!  We can't sue God, we can't hold God accountable to the civil code. We cannot place God in our debt by “doing the right thing.” The parable from Luke's gospel that we read today makes this precise point. Jesus describes a scenario that was presumably common among those who were listening to him on this occasion: Suppose you had an employee whose normal job it is to both work around the property—out in the fields tilling crops or taking care of animals—and also to do domestic chores such as cooking and serving meals. You would expect that person to do his job, and to neither complain nor expect a bonus or a special commendation just because he comes in from the field and serves your dinner before he gets his own.

Now, to our own modern egalitarian ears, that all sounds rather harsh. We would find it ethically difficult to treat an employee in such a way. We'd be more likely to help cook the meal and then invite him to sit down and eat with us. But it would be a mistake to allow such a cultural difference to keep us from seeing the point Jesus is trying to make. At the very end of the parable, Jesus does a flip-flop. He suddenly turns the tables, and instead of inviting us to identify with the employer who is waited on by his faithful and tired servant, Jesus calls us to identify with the servant!  “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’“

We are unworthy servants. God does not owe us any special praise or commendation or thanks for our efforts to be kind or fair or ethical or law-abiding or generous or even for being religious—for coming to the Eucharist every Sunday, for giving our money to support the church, for saying our prayers. None of this places God in our debt.  “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

Think of the saintliest, holiest, most upright person you know or know about. Now realize this: God is no more indebted to that person than he is to Attila the Hun or Osama bin Laden!  That's the truth—the tough-to-take truth.

But there's also good news in all this, marvelously good news. That which God is under no obligation to give us on account of justice, because he owes it to us, God wants to freely give us out of mercy, because he loves us. What we cannot earn ... is ours as a gift! In the words of St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “You are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, to keep anyone from boasting.”  To keep anyone from saying, “I got here by doing the right thing.”

Those of us who are parents know that if we were able to give our children whatever we wanted, it would be much much more than either the law or common standards of decency would require of us. In most cases, it would also be more than our children would even ask. Our God wants to treat us at least that well. This knowledge of God's grace, unearned, unowed, but freely given, enables us to do the right thing, not as a way of earning God's favor or placing him in our debt, but as a response of gratitude and devotion. The knowledge of God's free grace enables us to do our duty—to worship, to pray, to give of our time and talent and treasure—but not because it's our duty. Jesus invites us to get in touch with the Father's love for us, to accept the grace of God shed so generously on our lives, and then, motivated by gratitude, to do the right thing. Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Saturday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Breakfast at Charlie Parker's.
  • Participated in the development of a formal email announcement to the diocese of Bishop Beckwith's death.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow, when I will be "supplying" at St Thomas', Salem and St John's, Centralia.
  • Responded to a short stack of emails that had been lingering for a couple of days.
  • Wrote a promised discretionary fund check to be hand-delivered in the afternoon.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten in the office.
  • Ran a personal errand--out to Scheel's for a pair of hiking boots that can stand up to winter conditions.
  • Moved my sermon prep for Proper 24 (October 20 in Carlinville) from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Scanned, categorized, and tagged the accumulated hard copy items on my desk.
  • Packed up my office encampment, loaded the YFNBmobile, and headed down to O'Fallon for a 4pm meeting with the Mission Leadership Team of St Michael's, as they come to grips with the concrete realities of a pastoral hiatus.
  • Checked in at the Hilton Garden, walked a lap around their lagoon, caught dinner at a pizza place across the street, walked two more lagoon laps.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday (St Francis)

  • Up at 0500, out of the garage at 0534. In the office at 0900.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon briefly on a couple of things, organized my tasks, then conferred with the Archdeacon again on some additional matters, these more weighty than the previous ones.
  • Took my developed outline of a sermon for Proper 23 (October 13 at St Christopher's, Rantoul) and brought it to the rough draft text stage.
  • Lunch from Chick-Fil-A, eaten in the mall parking lot, listening to the radio.
  • We have accumulated a substantial sum of money to assist with clergy healthcare insurance in the Diocese of Tabora, and it had been my intent to actually wire the funds. With the Archdeacon's help, I found the record of the last such transaction, which contained all the necessary information, and hoofed it down to Illinois National Bank. To my surprise, they've changed their policy, and will no longer work off of such forms. They require fresh information. Now, if I had just copied down the information in my own handwriting and brought *that,* it would have been acceptable. Frustrating. So I emailed Bishop Elias and let him know the lay of the land.
  • Returned a voicemail from a lay person in the southern part of the diocese with a technical question about a baptism.
  • Had a substantive telephone conversation with one of the clergy of the diocese over a pastoral issue that I only became aware of a couple of days ago. Followed it up with a text and an email to a couple of other interested parties.
  • Learned via Facebook message of the death this afternoon of Bishop Peter Beckwith, my immediate predecessor. It was a surprise, as we were not aware of the illness that took his life.
  • Attended to some straggling communication issues.
  • In the cathedral, did a lectio divina on today's Old Testament reading from the daily office lectionary. Followed up with Evening Prayer.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Thursday (Therese of Lisieaux)

  • Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, crossword, task planing.
  • Hoofed it the 1.2 miles to my chiropractic appointment, then back.
  • Spent the balance of the morning with commentaries on Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching the readings for Proper 27 (November 10 at St Matthew's, Bloomington).
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended to a handful of smallish matters pertaining to synod, communication, and clergy deployment.
  • Did master sermon planning for the period between Advent I and Epiphany Last. This is a pretty major project that happens three times a year, and involves looking over previously-used material to see whether it can be repurposed (most of the time, these days, it can't), and plotting tasks accordingly. It also involved roughing out my 2020 visitation calendar, though it's not ready to share yet.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the synod Mass.
  • Took a brisk walk on a blustery day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wednesday (Holy Guardian Angels)

After eight consecutive days without a day off, the last five of them having been packed with meetings, public worship, and travel, I made a prudential decision and canceled a planned day trip to Nashotah House for a meeting of the corporation members, hoping to make some headway into an extraordinarily long to-do list (78 actions items in play at the morning's count), as well as address some quotidian domestic issues, like grocery shopping and laundry. Actual personal down time will have to wait.
  • Allowed myself to "sleep in" by about 30 minutes. Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, crossword, task organizing (which took a while, because it involved clearing out my email inbox, which was stuffed).
  • Walked Shane Spellmeyer's ordination certificate down to the post office and sent it "express priority" to Marquette, MI where it will hopefully arrive in time for his scheduled ordination (I had to outsource the deed itself to the Bishop of Northern Michigan) on Saturday.
  • Responded to a handful of late-arriving emails. 
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took a phone call from a lay communicant in one of our parishes regarding an emerging, and serious, pastoral issue.
  • Attended to another request for some detailed information from my tax advisor.
  • Did some necessary grocery shopping.
  • Reviewed a draft service bulletin for October 20 in Carlinville and made some suggested tweaks.
  • Took a phone call from another member of the Eucharistic Community referenced above about the same pastoral issue.
  • Carefully drafted a message to the diocese about some developments at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign and posted it to the website.
  • Worked with the Communicator to put the finishing touches on that major pastoral teaching document on sexuality and marriage that I've mentioned several times in this diary. It's now live on the website.
  • Evening Prayer in our little chapel.
  • Worked most of the evening responding to emails that accumulated during the time I was jammed with meetings and travel.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Tuesday (St Remigius)

Early breakfast at the Hilton Garden, Lewisville, TX with the Bishop of Dallas and his Canon to the Ordinary. Lively conversation among good friends. Returned to my room, said my prayers, packed, and headed to DFW, which was not a long drive. Returned my rental car (from Sixt, which is a British company new on the scene here, and with which I have now had two quite positive experiences), checked my bag, cleared security, and had time for lunch at a tapas place before having to be ready to board at noon for a 12:30 departure. Everything went smoothly, and was back home at 4:00. Cleared a bunch of unprocessed emails from my inbox (creating about fifteen new tasks as a result) and got all my work back where I can see it. Read Evening Prayer. Took Brenda out for an al fresco dinner, on what is probably the last night when such will be possible this year.