Friday, December 13, 2019

St Lucy

  • Out of my garage right at 0530. At the office by 0845. An audio book certainly eats of the miles.
  • Organized tasks. Conferred a bit with the Archdeacon.
  • On behalf of one of our Eucharistic Communities that is concerned about the issue, did some research (including conversations with the Archdeacon and the Dean, in addition to the interwebs) on security protocols for churches. Sad to have to even expend any energy on something like this.
  • Got to work refining and editing my homily for this Sunday (St Luke's, Springfield).
  • Broke off from this at 10:40 to meet with my 11:00 appointment, who arrived early. It was with a deacon who is ordained and canonically resident in another diocese who has relocated in retirement to the Champaign-Urbana area. It was a get-to-know-you meeting prior to licensing and possible eventual transfer of canonical residence.
  • Back to the sermon work. Finished it up.
  • Out to Chick-Fil-A for lunch. Then downtown for a quick errand.
  • Began to scan, categorize, and tag the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Broke of from this to meet by 2:00 appointment--a two-hour continuing tutorial in liturgy (we have about eight hours in now) with an ordinand in the area of liturgy.
  • Caught up on incoming texts and emails.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.
  • While I am truly comfortable with my usual office encampment while in town, I gratefully accepted an offer from St Luke's to get me a hotel room for a couple of nights, so I journeyed down to La Quinta on South Sixth and got settled in. Out to dinner at a Chinese-Cajun (yes, you read that right) place on Wabash.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

The morning was effectively consumed by producing my regular "column" for the next issue of the Springfield Current, which will appear shortly after Epiphany. The early afternoon was devoted to a healthcare errand, after which I focused on an Ad Clerum--a letter to the clergy, mostly on matters liturgical. Managed to turn a chuck roast into a bunch of beef barbacoa, thanks, once again, to the Instant Pot (cooked to perfection in one hour under pressure). Then it was time to pack for my weekend in the diocese.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday

  • Regular weekday AM routine.
  • Substantive email exchange regarding an ongoing administrative concern.
  • Took a call from a "head hunter" retained by a large parish in another diocese that is searching for a rector. (He wasn't head-hunting me, but looking for suggestions. Being the bishop of a backwater diocese with no large congregations, and not having any clergy at the moment who I'm eager to get rid of, I wasn't of much help.)
  • Said my prayers and took an initial pass at the readings for II Epiphany (January 19 at Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Lunched (on the late side) on leftovers.
  • More emails regarding another administrative issue.
  • Spent a chunk of time on the Lambeth Conference web portal going through "Stage Two" of the registration process. This is a complex and finely-oiled machine.
  • Plowed through about a half a dozen tasks that involve responding to an email, none of which were particularly urgent, and most of which have been sitting in my list for a while and never quite rising to the top. Some of them required some careful thought. So now I can cross them off.
  • 45-minute treadmill workout.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday

  • Regular weekday AM routine, supplemented by the need to welcome a mold remediation team to our apartment for the day, and they'll be back tomorrow. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the main bathroom ceiling is rather thoroughly deconstructed at this point.
  • Answered a brief query from the Communicator.
  • Provided a letter attesting to the "in good standing" status of a priest who has retired and moved to another diocese.
  • Corresponded with a deacon who has moved to the diocese in retirement and wishes to pursue being licensed.
  • Continued correspondence with a priest (Anglican-ish? I'm not sure) for whom I can do nothing formal, but who wishes to stay in contact informally.
  • Wrote a substantive email to a lay communicant of the diocese who has kindly taken me to task for a position I have enunciated.
  • Did some surgery on a "vintage" sermon text for Advent IV in anticipation of reshaping it for use this year at St John's, Centralia.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Got my granddaughter a Nintendo gift card for her birthday and emailed it to her. Sometimes I do love contemporary technology.
  • Spend about 45 minutes with my ongoing basement organizing project.
  • Attended to a routine personal organization chore (making sure clergy in charge of congregations I'm visiting in the next month have expressed an awareness that I'm coming).
  • Paid attention to an ongoing administrative project.
  • Revisited, via notes, and email, the subject of how to form diaconal ordinands.
  • Caught up on some Covenant blog reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent

Away from the office around 0830 en route to Havana, with a drive-through stop at McD's for some breakfast. Arrived at St Barnabas' the targeted 30 minutes prior to their regular 10am liturgy. There were 51 in attendance, which, in light of the recent history of that community, was remarkable. Fr Mike Newago has been an inspiring and effective pastor and leader. We baptized two teens, confirmed two adults and received one, all in the context of duly celebrating the Second Sunday of Advent. After some good visiting time over lunch, I was on the road at 12:15 and home at 3:45.

Sermon for II Advent

St Barnabas’, Havana--Matthew 3:1–12

We’re into the mid-section of Advent now, where John the Baptist is the lead actor, and the prophet Isaiah is the principal supporting actor. The gospel writers give us only a handful of details about John, but there are enough of them to paint a rather compelling picture. I mean … what a sight! He’s dressed in camel hide, lives in the desert, eats insects, and is on a constant rant about sin and the need for people to repent. And, still, he was wildly popular, mostly, I would guess, because he was so weird, and such a spectacle. But it’s not like people were ignoring the nugget of his message, which was, in a word, Repent! People were making a rather demanding journey down to where the Jordan River runs through the Judean desert—it wasn’t a casual stroll from where people lived—they were making their way to John, and listening to his message of repentance, and confessing their sins, and getting baptized. It was a really big deal, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to downplay it in our imaginations.

Now … you would think that, given what people had to go through to get to him, and given the … ahem, unappealing character of his message, John would at least cut them some slack and not ask too many questions—you know, give them some points for making the effort. If someone manages to make it down to the river, and wants to confess their sins and get baptized, we would expect John to just say, “Bless you, friend. Step right up.” But no!  When he sees members of two partisan groups within Judaism approach him for baptism, he goes ballistic. His head explodes. “You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run away from what’s in store for you?!”

That’s certainly not a warm pastoral embrace of a humble penitent sinner, is it?! Why? What motivated John to be so unhospitable toward the Pharisees and Sadducees? Well, to understand John’s attitude, we need to look under the hood of the other element, the other basic theme, of John’s preaching, which is: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s very easy to hear this expression and understand it in very straightforward, static terms, like we would understand somebody saying, “Christmas is just around the corner” or, toward the end of a long road trip, and your impatient child asks, “Are we there yet?” and you’re able to truthfully answer, “Just about. We’re almost there. Look, we can see where we’re going from here.” 

But God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, isn’t like that. On December 25, Christmas will have arrived, and on January 7, it will have departed. It’s simple and predictable. When I arrive home tonight and park my car in the garage, my journey will be over. My navigation app will say, “You have arrived at your destination.” God’s kingdom, by contrast, is always happening rather than simply existing. It’s not a territory or a sphere or a realm. It’s an ever-ongoing event. Any consideration of the kingdom of heaven always ends in -i-n-g. It’s always happening, always continuing. The kingdom of heaven is “near,” not spatially, the way we usually thing of nearness, not “near in time,” but “near in place,” sort of in the way that the Illinois River is “near” Havana. And when the river is at flood stage, it gets even nearer still. I can imagine that there have been times when the residents of this town have feared that the Illinois River will just “invade” Havana. This is more or less what John the Baptist is saying about the kingdom of heaven: It’s constantly “inbreaking,” forever “on the verge” of invading our time and place. God’s kingdom isn’t a place or an event, but an ongoing moment of “happening.”

So, John’s criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees is that their repentance is cheap and cynical, not genuine, not authentic. It doesn’t spring naturally and spontaneously from their hearts. Rather, it’s fabricated, contrived, motivated only by a desire to escape the just and proper consequences of their self-serving behavior.

But the kind of repentance that God’s always inbreaking, always on-the-verge-of-invading kingdom summons us to is joyful repentance. I mean … God’s kingdom is near, and that’s pretty awesome, so that’s more than enough reason to be joyful, right? But, joyful repentance? That just sounds weird, doesn’t it? Yeah, that may strike us a contradiction, because repentance is serious business, and is often appropriately accompanied by tears of regret and sorrow. But joyful repentance is actually the heart of this season of Advent.

We are always, of course, aware of our need for repentance. Along with the Psalmist, we can truthfully say, “My sin is ever before me,” and even, on occasion, “My wounds stink and fester by reason of my foolishness.” In my more than three decades of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, I have found that Ash Wednesday is one of the most well-attended of the liturgical occasions that never fall on a Sunday. We are aware of our sinfulness, and we understand that confession of sin is an essential movement in the process of repentance. But, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, hopefully, we don’t repent out of fear, we don’t repent simply to avoid the consequences of our behavior. We repent as an irrepressible response to our anticipation of the full arrival of the kingdom of heaven, when all wrongs will be put right, and every tear be wiped away. Think of repentance, if you will, as you might when you are expecting some very special company in your home. The work may be challenging and difficult, and not at all fun. But you don’t go about it with fear or off-the-charts anxiety. Rather, you clean your house with joyful anticipation, because somebody who is important to you, somebody whom you care about a great deal, is going to show up, and the prospect of that makes you want to sing with joy. Housecleaning under those circumstances is much like the repentance that John the Baptist calls us to, that the season of Advent calls us to. It’s serious business, but it springs from the heart, authentically and organically.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come, let us adore him. Amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday (St Ambrose)

  • Morning Prayer in my office, then off on foot to Charlie Parker's for breakfast, and back. Between the walking about 45 minutes each way and the eating, it was a little past eleven by the time I was cleaned up and ready take on the work day.
  • Responded by email, as gently and pastorally as I could, to a lay communicant of the diocese who is upset with me for a stand I have taken.
  • Responded to a request for a donation from my Discretionary Fund for a contribution to the project of establishing an Anglican center in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It would greet pilgrims as they complete the Camino and be able to offer the sort of Eucharistic hospitality that the Roman Catholic church is presently unable to extend to those who are not of their own fold.
  • Caught up on a bit of Covenant blog reading.
  • Out to Chick-Fil-A for some lunch, then a bit of shopping at Macy's, Scheel's, and HyVee.
  • Plotted the plotting (yes, that sounds weird) of sermon preparation tasks for the next 12 months.
  • Brainstormed and committed to pixels a rough plan for the theological and spiritual formation of diaconal ordinands. There is no institutional option at the moment that seems entirely satisfactory. So we are going to be creative and improvise.
  • Either by hand-written note or scheduled email, extended greetings to clergy and spouses with nodal events in December (having already missed some by this date).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, then dinner at what has become one my local haunts: Bernie & Betty's (it's a pizza place, but I always have their fine beef ravioli with meat sauce).

Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday (St Nicholas)

  • On the road southbound at 0527. A John Grisham audio book made the time slide right by. Arrived at Green Mazda in Springfield around 0835. Left the YFNBmobile there for a service appointment and called an Uber to take me to the office.
  • Processed emails that arrived overnight. Organized tasks. Began doing finish work on this Sunday's homily.
  • Kept at 10am appointment with the wardens of one of our Eucharistic Communities, along with the Archdeacon, to discuss some financial concerns.
  • Returned to, and completed, the sermon work I had begun.
  • Since I was carless, I walked into downtown and had pizza for lunch.
  • Began processing accumulated hard-copy items on my desk.
  • Took care of a small administrative chore.
  • Met was three members of the Standing Committee, at their request, to discuss a pastoral issue.
  • Called another Uber to take me back to the Mazda dealer and retrieve my vehicle.
  • Dealt with a couple of emails that have taken longer that I would have liked to rise to the top of the pile.
  • Friday devotion: Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thursday (St Clement of Alexandria)

The day mostly got consumed by domestic concerns as I prepare to be in the diocese for the next three days--mostly making sure Brenda has enough to eat while I'm gone, which, today, meant embracing the learning curve of a new Instant Pot, and then cooking a pork shoulder that turned out splendidly. Apart from that, I exchanged emails with staff members over various concerns, had a substantive pastoral conversation with a lay communicant of the diocese, and corresponded in Spanish with a priest from Argentina who approached me with a request I cannot fulfill. Prepping now to be on the road at 0-dark-thirty.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday (St John of Damascus)

Again, the morning was devoted to various administrative and pastoral chores, both by email and telephone. A chunk of the afternoon involved taking Brenda to the doctor to follow up on her most recent low-sodium episode, each of which has affected her quite seriously. Upon returning, I drafted a homily text for Advent III (St Luke's, Springfield), and read a couple of late-arriving Mission Strategy Reports, then making some notes on each and sharing them with the members of the Department of Mission.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tuesday

Spent most of the day clearing a very thick stack of administrative and pastoral items--mostly by email, a couple by phone. Most were matters of some substance; a few were relatively minor. One, at least, took the better part of an hour. A couple were dispatched in two minutes. It's gratifying to see fifteen items no longer in my pile.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent Sunday

Presided and preached--this time in the capacity of "supply"--at the regular 0930 celebration at St Michael's, O'Fallon. (This is a Eucharistic Community in pastoral transition.) Met briefly with the Mission Leadership Team. After some potluck nutritional fortification, there was an open congregational meeting, at which I presided, fielding questions from parishioners. Most of the anxiety in the room had to do with finances, and with the process for finding them a new vicar. (The two issues are connected.) I then met with a small group of parishioners about a specific pastoral situation. After couple of more informal confabs on my way out, I was back in my car at 1pm, and home a bit past 7:00 (there was an inexplicable delay of about an hour around Pontiac).

Sermon for Advent Sunday

St Michael’s, O’Fallon--Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:8-14

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the lucky passengers who were able to book space on the Titanic for her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City in April of 1912? It was a virtual floating city. Even Babe Ruth wouldn’t have been able to hit a batting practice pitch from one end of the boat to the other. It was huge and it was beautiful and it provided a feeling of stability and security to the officers, the crew, and all the passengers—whether they were in a luxury stateroom or third-class steerage.
So, on that fateful night four days later when the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, the passengers and the junior crew members who were not in the immediate area of impact may not even have felt anything, and if they did notice that the ship’s engine had stopped running, they probably assumed it was just a matter of “technical difficulties” that would be overcome quickly and they would soon be on their way again. They kept on playing cards or dancing or sleeping or whatever it was they were doing at that moment—that moment which would forever alter their lives, if not bring them to a rather abrupt and premature conclusion.

You and I may never have thought of it this way, but we have a lot in common with those voyagers on the Titanic. We don’t know the details—we don’t know when and we don’t know how—but we do know—at least, we profess our belief every time we recite the creeds—we know that Christ is coming again. Christ is coming again, not in weakness and vulnerability to be a savior, but in power and great glory to be a judge and king. And when he does, it will forever alter our lives, and, for some unwary souls on that day, bring them to an abrupt and premature conclusion.

As we know, however, the captain of the Titanic, and the senior members of the crew, soon realized that the most magnificent ocean-going vessel ever constructed in the history of the human race would soon be resting at the bottom of the deep blue sea. Sinking was only a matter of time. For everyone else, though, everything appeared to be quite normal, and people were on that ship in the first place mostly for normal reasons: Some were on vacation, some were emigrating, some had left family members behind and some were looking forward to rejoining family members already in America. Some were rich and some were poor, some were naughty and some were nice, some were educated and some were ignorant. They were in all respects a normal collection of normal human beings doing normal things. When some of them felt a slight bump and noticed that the propellers had gone silent, they may have been tempted to order another drink or ask their partner for another dance. 

In a similar way, it is easy for us to be seduced by the routines of normal life. When Jesus talks to his disciples about the last days, the days prior to his return to this world to judge the living and the dead, he compares the situation in those days to “the days of Noah.” Now, when we read the book of Genesis, we find that the reason the Lord was peeved with the human race in the days of Noah was on account of their general wickedness and excessive violence. Curiously, though, Jesus doesn’t mention any of that. Instead, he talks about pretty normal things—“eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  Not much here that’s inherently wicked, is there? It is, rather, as they say, “the stuff of life.” Eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage. Doing housework, paying bills, shopping, going to the doctor, surfing the internet, taking a vacation, and, of course, just doing our jobs—all pretty normal stuff. It is incredibly easy for us to be seduced by all these normal things, and so not allow Christ’s return—his return to judge the living and the dead, to be a factor at all in the way we live our lives.

The First Sunday of Advent arrives each year as a much-needed slap in the face to waken us out of our complacency, to keep us from giving in to the attempts of “normalcy” to seduce us. Jesus calls us to be alert and vigilant:
…know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Hear also the words of St Paul in his letter to the Christian community in the city of Rome:
…it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day…
Indeed, the central imagery of the Prayer Book collect for this Sunday—casting off works of darkness and putting on the armor of light—these images are drawn directly from this epistle reading. It is our task as Christian believers to stay awake, to maintain our vigil, to never lose sight of the fact that, until Christ does come again, we live under wartime conditions and need to be ready to assume our battle stations at a moment’s notice. Our lives are not normal, and we should never pretend that they are. 

The good news is, we already know all we need to know in order to follow these commands. In other words, we know what vigilance—vigilance of the sort that Jesus calls us to—we know what this looks like. For starters, we have the Ten Commandments. Using them as a benchmark by which to evaluate our behavior helps keep us from being seduced by the normal world. We have the Beatitudes—Jesus’ promise of blessing on those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and those who make peace. We also have the example of Jesus’ life of compassion, service, and sacrifice. We have all these things that can help make us ready for the coming of Christ. We have these tools to help us avoid the nasty consequences of the Day of Judgment, and put ourselves in the position of being able to enjoy the good consequences of the coming of Christ.

Most of the passengers and crew on the Titanic were consigned to a cold and watery grave, partly because they too long went on living as if everything were just normal, but mostly because there weren’t enough lifeboats for everybody on board. We, however, have a better deal than those on the Titanic. We have a lifeboat with plenty of capacity for all who wish to be saved—all who wish to be able to stand up straight in God’s presence on the Day of Judgment, to be able to look God in the eye and not be pulverized. Actually, we have the same deal as people had “in the days of Noah.” We have an ark. Unfortunately, most of the people “in the days of Noah” weren’t smart enough to get on the ark that Noah built.

But we don’t have to follow their foolish example. We have an ark—a lifeboat—called the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Have you ever wondered why the main part of a traditional church building resembles an upside-down ship—and is, in fact, called the “nave.” There’s a reason for that. In the Christian vocabulary, the Church is known as, among other things, “the ark of salvation.” The Church is the community that God saves. God saves “us.” God saves “me” because I am part of “us,” just as God saved the ark when the flood waters rose, and thereby the people on it. Advent Sunday is like the alarm that eventually sounded on the Titanic saying, “Put on your life vest and get on a lifeboat. This ship is sinking.” Advent Sunday tells us, “The ship you’re on—this world—this ship is sinking. Put on the life vest of faith and get on the ark—get on the lifeboat called the Church of Jesus Christ. There’s plenty of room for everyone.” Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.