Saturday, September 19, 2020

Saturday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

 

  • Let a two-hour Zoom seminar, with about a dozen participants--part three of a four-part series--on Pastoral Liturgy, this session focusing on the Eucharist.
  • Took my sermon-prep process for Proper 24 through the exegetical stage.
  • Conceived and hatched my homily for the Synod Mass on October 2.
  • Attended via multiple emails to a pastoral situation in one of our Eucharistic Communities that may not be quite "hot," but is definitely quite warm.
  • Caught up on some Covenant blog reading.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday (E.B. Pusey)

Prepped for tomorrow's liturgy seminar ... open a sermon file on Proper 24 (October 18 at All Saints, Morton) ... long phone conversation with Canon Evans ... long phone conversation with a priest of the diocese ... shorter phone conversation with a colleague bishop ... routine periodic cleanup of my computer desktop ... Lectio Divina on tomorrow's daily office Old Testament reading.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday (Hildegard of Bingen)

 

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • Plowed through some more fairly quick email-generated tasks.
  • Spent time with commentaries on the readings for Proper 23 (October 11 in West Frankfort).
  • Lunch from the Chinese joint around the corner.
  • Bowflex workout.
  • Back to Proper 23, this time to articulate a homiletical message statement.
  • Wrote a brief message to the parish clergy of the diocese, authorizing the resumption of baptisms, under appropriate conditions.
  • Another telemedicine appointment with Brenda.
  • Took a long walk on the sunny fall afternoon.
  • Did a chunk of reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Zoom interview with a potential postulant. Green-lighted a discernment group in his parish.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wednesday (St Ninian)

The big chunk of the day (10-2:30) was dedicated to a tele-meeting of the House of Bishops, both in plenary and in "table groups." (I'm with the bishops of Spokane, South Dakota, and Southwestern Virginia, along with the retired bishops of Rhode Island and Arizona). The subject was how to respond, both personally and as pastors, to systemic racism. This was followed by a fairly brief telemedicine appointment, after which I *really* needed a walk. Before Evening Prayer and dinner, there was time to do some cosmetic surgery on a vintage sermon text for Proper 21, repurposing it for use at St Matthew's, Bloomington on the 27th. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tuesday (St Cyprian)

The morning and early afternoon were devoted to burning through a *long* queue of email-generated tasks that had piled up to do my appropriate neglect of my diocesan email account during my vacation. Many of these were very short; others were more substantial. With that all cleared, I'm ready to attack an equally impressive collection of beefier items that need attention. Mid-to-late afternoon was dedicated to running the errands (haircut, groceries) that I couldn't get to yesterday because the events surrounding the ordination.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Holy Cross Day

 ,,, aaaaannd we're back. Vacation did what it needed to do, and I'm very grateful. Spent most of the morning taming my diocesan email inbox, to which I have not been paying close attention for the last month or so. Most of them were converted into tasks, so my to-do list is bulging. Set off at 11am southward, hitting the Diocesan Center a little past 2:30. Caught up on various things with Canon Evans, gave him a tutorial on playing with hot wax to seal certificates, refined and printed my homily for tonight's ordination, and then headed back north to Trinity, Lincoln. At 5:30, we began the liturgy for the ordination of Dr Christopher Ben Simpson to the priesthood, as well is instituting him as rector of Trinity Church. It was a joyous, well-subscribed, and dutifully masked occasion. After mingling for a bit at the outdoor reception, I arrived back in my Chicago abode at 10:50.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

St Mary the Virgin

 Presided over the regular August meeting of the Diocesan Council. Took care of a few dangling odds and ends. I am now in Vacationland. So I'll be going dark in this location until September 14. See you then.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday (Jonathan Daniels / Maximillian Kolbe)

 

  • Plowed through another (shorter than yesterday) stack of items needing a response from me--some short, some more substantial.
  • Opened a sermon file (pray, paste readings into a document, read slowly and reflectively, make initial notes) on Proper 23 (October 11 in West Frankfort).
  • Conceived and hatched my next-due post for the Covenant blog. Something on the process of sermon preparation. I'd say it's about 60% written.
  • Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Caught up on some deferred reading. Save for tomorrow's Diocesan Council meeting, I am sufficiently caught up to be able to head into Vacationland right on schedule.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thursday (Jeremy Taylor)

 In a pre-vacation radar-clearing effort, the main focus today was on burning through a hefty list of items that call for a response from me, most of them relatively short. Substantive phone check-in with Canon Evans. The biggest single accomplishment was the production of a developed outline from my homiletical message statement for Proper 22, preparing to preach at St Stephen's, Harrisburg on October 4. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Wednesday

 Big rocks:

  • Took some notes I made last week and turned them into a draft sermon text for an ordination that is scheduled for my first day back from vacation, September 14, which, for all practical purposes, is "next week."
  • Made significant progress planning the details of the synod Mass, which will take place in the cathedral in the evening of October 2, not open to the public, but live-streamed.

Lesser rocks:

  • Substantive phone conversation with a staff member of another diocese regarding a priest who has expressed an interest in coming to Springfield.
  • Substantive phone conversation with the senior warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities concerning an emerging pastoral issue.
  • Substantive phone conversation with a representative of the Church Pension Group, which is, I suppose, the first practical step in the process of retiring.
  • All the usual late-arriving emails and texts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tuesday (St Clare)

 

  • Created a Zoom meeting for Diocesan Council on Saturday and sent out the link.
  • Responded to an email from the senior warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Dealt with an emergent administrative issue, hopefully in a dispositive way.
  • Did the first bit of planning for the synod Mass (which will be closed and live-streamed from the cathedral). We will be observing the (unofficial for Episcopalians) feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 2.
  • Made a pastoral check-in by phone with one of our priests.
  • Substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans.
  • Wrote and sent an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy, this time only those is active parochial ministry), wherein I devolved the question of congregation singing to the local level, with certain restrictions.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Lord's Day (X Pentecost)

Up and out just past 0600 for a day trip to Pekin, arriving around 45 minutes ahead of a joint Tazewell County Parish liturgy at 10am (St Paul's, Pekin plus All Saints, Morton). Presided, preached, and confirmed two adults and one teen. Enjoyed al fresco grilled burgers with Fr Dallman and his family (and their egg-producing brood of chickens roaming freely). Then met with Deacon Chris Simpson from Trinity, Lincoln for some liturgical practicum ("Mass class") ahead of his ordination to the priesthood next month. Started out for home around 1:50, arriving about 3.5 hours later (more traffic coming into Chicago than there was leaving it in the morning). Our children had arranged for some sushi (for them) and Thai (for me) carry=out for dinner, which we enjoyed together. Then Brenda and I participated in a Zoom meeting of around half of the Class of 2011 bishops, and several spouses. What a tonic that was.

Sermon for Proper 14

Tazewell Parish--Matthew 14:22-33, Jonah 2:1-9, Psalm 29

When I was a mere youth, and trying to master the art of throwing a baseball or playing ping-pong, I was taught that I could spin the ball different ways so as to make it behave unpredictably, and confuse my opponent. In my adulthood, of course, that notion of “spin control” has become a metaphor for the management of information so as to create a particular desired impression. With politicians and business leaders, spin control becomes second nature, as they seek to put raw, objective facts in the most favorable frame they can. But we all do it.

In a way, the discipline of “Christian apologetics”—the task of justifying the ways of God to people, explaining God’s often mysterious behavior in ways that make some sense to rational human beings—the discipline of Christian apologetics could be said to be a form of theological spin control. Christianity claims that Jesus makes God present to us. Christianity claims that, in Christ, the fundamental gap that separates us from God is bridged, and the path to perfect communion with God is opened. Christianity claims that the community of the church is like a well-built boat on the stormy seas of life, the ark of salvation that will deliver us safely to the distant shore for which we are bound.

This should be a source of comfort and peace, but, instead, our actual experience—both in the world and in the church—can often be rather chaotic and scary, like being in a boat in the middle of a storm, always just a moment away from capsizing and spilling its passengers into the abyss.

Water—the sea, the ocean—figures prominently both in our conscious awareness and in our subconscious imagination. We all spent nine months surrounded by water, and coming out of it was a traumatic experience. The depths of the sea represent our primordial fears, our deepest unspoken anxieties. For Jonah, being cast into the sea, from the comparative safety of a boat, was a sign of his being punished by God. From the belly of the fish that swallowed him, he prays

I am cast out from your presence; how shall I again look upon your holy temple?  The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever.

These words of Jonah may have been in the minds, or even on the lips, of Jesus’ frightened disciples as their small craft, beaten by waves, negotiated the choppy Sea of Galilee on a windy night. And, to be honest, when taken figuratively, they represent the experience of a great many people—probably most people, at some point in their lives—who feel simply overwhelmed by life: drowning in grief, regret, shame, fear, and despair. So all this presents a monumental challenge to anyone involved in Christian apologetics. It leads any rational person to question Christianity’s claims. It sows seeds of doubt—doubt within ourselves, about our own spiritual experience, doubt about the life of the church, and about our witness in and to the world. What are we to make of this? What sort of “spin control” might we engage in to present the claims of the gospel in as attractive a light as possible?

The frightened disciples in that storm-tossed boat probably remembered, when they allowed themselves a stray thought, that, only a few hours earlier, Jesus had ministered to several thousand people on the beach, by feeding them from a mere five small loaves of bread and two fish. But that memory probably seemed pale and irrelevant to them as they faced the imminent prospect of having to do some serious treading of water. In a similar way, you and I “remember” Jesus. We’ve stored away, in the gray matter between our ears, a great deal of information about his life on this planet. We remember things he said—teachings, parables, words of comfort and compassion, words of challenge. We remember things he did—gestures of love and tenderness and courage, miracles of healing and mercy. But these memories of Jesus may seem a little sketchy to us, so distracted are we by the pressing concerns of work and career, relationships and family life, recreation and entertainment. Our relationship with Jesus can easily become like that of a long-married couple who are so caught up in the mundane mechanics of life that they forget why they ever got married.

But once in a while, usually without any warning or preparation, we actually do have something resembling a real experience of Jesus. It may be a spine tingle when the lights come on at the Easter Vigil, a healing for which there is no medically plausible explanation, or the dramatic turnaround of a life that had appeared to be lost—lost to alcohol or drugs or gambling or violence or some other compulsive behavior. And when this happens, ironically, our first response is not faith, but doubt. We are like the disciples on that boat when it becomes apparent that the mysterious figure walking toward them on top of the waves is none other than Jesus. They said, “Lord, if it’s really you…”  Note the operative word there: “if.” If—the token of conditionality, the marker of doubt. We meet Jesus, who wants to rescue us from the mess we’re in, and the first thing we do is ask for his photo ID! We demand verification. “Lord, if it’s really you … do it again, and then I’ll believe.” In Peter’s case, it was “Lord, if it’s really you, let me walk out to you.” What Peter is saying, what we are saying, in effect, is “I’m seasick; get me out of this wretched boat; you’re there and I’m here, take me to where you are.”

We speak the truth when say this. It sounds like an expression of confidence. Our real attitude, however, is just the opposite. It’s grounded not in trust, but in lack of faith. Authentic faith, mature faith, trusts that God is no less present with His people in the midst of their trials, than at the end of their trials. So Peter’s request—“Lord, if it’s really you, let me come out to you”—is actually an instance of putting God to the test. Now, if we remember our Old Testament, putting God to the test is not usually thought of as a good thing! People got in serious trouble for putting God to the test. Jesus tells Peter, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" In other words, it wasn’t Peter’s “little faith” that caused him to sink, as we might easily suppose. We often assume that Peter’s mistake was in taking his eyes off of Jesus; that’s what caused him to sink. There may be a good lesson there; there’s something to be said for not taking our eyes off of Jesus. But I would suggest to you that it was not Peter’s “little faith” that caused him to sink; it was his “little faith” that caused him to leave the boat in the first place!

What this says to the apologetic project—the task of explaining the ways of God to doubting human minds and hearts—is to get in the boat, and stay in it! Yes, the seas will get rough from time to time, but the boat is the place in which Jesus will come to you, and when he comes to you, he brings his peace with him. Matthew tells us that, as soon as Jesus—and a very damp Peter—got into the boat, the wind ceased, and there was peace. So, we are to wait for Jesus in the boat. And in the symbolic vocabulary of the New Testament and Christian tradition, of course, the boat stands for the Church: the visible, organic, historical community that connects us, through 80 or so generations, to Peter and the other apostles who welcomed Jesus into their storm-tossed boat and experienced the peace that only he can bring. As topsy-turvy as our experience in the Church may be, she is still the “ark of salvation” and we need to stay on board. It never ceases to amaze me how, very often, when faithful church-going Christians sail into one of life’s storms—illness, family problems, work problems, or whatever—the first thing they do is quit coming to church. Just when they need it most, they quit coming to church. When we do this, we’re acting like Peter. We have “little faith.” We’re abandoning ship when that’s just the place Jesus wants us to be so he can bring us his peace. We need to stay on board. Jesus will find us here.

When the wind whips up the waves, and things get a little shaky, we can always take comfort from the words of Psalm 29:

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;

the God of glory thunders; *

the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *

the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

 

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday (St Dominic)

  • Attended the scheduled 75-minute webinar for clergy and laity of the diocese on how to think about mission in the current environment.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow.
  • Dealt with a handful of late-arriving texts and emails.
  • Otherwise, attended to domestic concerns.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday (John Mason Neale)

The big accomplishments today consisted of getting the YFNBmobile serviced and getting a haircut, both of which were, of course, inordinately time-consuming. Around those items, I attended to the usual flurry of emails, texts, and phone calls. Also prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, and completed the work of assembling a task force to do a sort of audit on the influence of systemic racism in the life of the diocese. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Transfiguration

The big rocks:

  • Attended a meeting of the diocesan Department of Finance, to work through some outstanding issues related to the draft 2021 operating budget that will be proposed to Council on the 15th.
  • Prayed over, conceived, and hatched a homily for the ordination of Chris Simpson to the priesthood, set for September 14, the very day I get back into the saddle after vacation.
  • Reached out to two potential guest presenters at what will be the virtual surrogate for the usual fall clergy conference. (I've already heard back from one of them--affirmatively).

Less big:

  • Attended to the usual running stream of emails, texts, and phone calls.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wednesday (St Oswald)

More miscellany, from tending to vacancy and ordination process issues to an emerging clergy discipline issue (never fun), and some administrative process concerns. The "big rock" involved sitting with my exegetical notes on the readings for Proper 22 until they birthed a homiletical message statement. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tuesday (St John Vianney)

As the Tuesday routine has developed of late, the demands of the day consisted not of one or two large projects, but a whole slew of smaller ones, all of which have begun life as an incoming email over the last few days., covering a wide array of topics. Not much more to say than that. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Lord's Day (IX Pentecost)

Up and out of my accommodations in Litchfield in time to preside and preach for the 8am liturgy at St Andrew's, Edwardsville. This was a "public" service, and there were about a dozen people in attendance. The 10am celebration is "closed to the public," and there were only four people physically present (and distanced) in the room (YFNB, the Rector, a lector/server, and the organist), but it was live-streamed and reached around forty people. The fun part was that, as it was not a public service, and we were well-spaced, we could sing. It's been awhile, and it was balm to my soul. Still on the lookout for data and studies that would support loosening those bonds.

Sermon for Proper 13

St Andrew’s, Edwardsville --Matthew 14:13–21, Isaiah 55:1–5, Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22

                                                                           

Not enough jobs, so we look for the economy to keep producing more. Not enough Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare personnel, so governors scheme covertly to raid the supplies of other countries before the neighboring state gets to them first. Not enough COVID-19 tests, so public officials talk about rationing and triage.

For multiple reasons, as members of the larger context of secular society, our default mentality is one of scarcity. Resources are always finite, and possession of them is always a zero-sum game. At the international level, wars get fought over access to finite energy resources. I’ve lived the majority of my adult life on the west coast, so I’m more than familiar with anxiety over the supply of water, and conflict over how the available water gets allocated. And, of course, human societies have fought one another over land since time out of mind. We are also well-conditioned to consider money a scarce commodity. Every public and private non-profit institution—local governments, schools, churches—and many commercial businesses as well, all seem to be constantly on the edge financially.

As people of faith, as disciples of Jesus, it’s extremely tempting to import this mentality into how we think of God and his dealings with us. We assume that God doles out just enough sustaining grace—just enough assistance, just enough help, just enough provision—for us to get by, but no more, because ... you know ... he doesn’t want to run out!

The miracle of the feeding of the multitude challenges our assumptions and invites us to think otherwise. This is one of only a very few incidents that is narrated in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Today we heard Matthew’s version. Jesus, you know, tended to draw a crowd wherever he went, including, it seems, when he decided to head out to the boonies, to a location very far off the beaten path. These were spontaneous gatherings for the most part, so there was not very much by way of logistical support. On this occasion, Jesus spent an extended time doing some teaching, and the people gave him their rapt attention. Before anybody realized it, the time was heading toward evening, and the disciples got themselves into a mild panic about a few thousand hungry people who could at any moment become “hangry” people, and they didn’t want to deal with the consequences. So they started urging Jesus to cut it short and send the crowd away before things got out of hand.

Now, I can see Jesus doing this with a twinkle in his eye and a suppressed grin, but he responds to their apostolic anxiety with, “You give them something to eat.” To which they respond—somewhat apoplectically, I would imagine—“Say what? We’ve got a grand total of five small loves of bread and two whole tilapias. So tell us how this is going to work.” To which Jesus replies, “I’m on it.” And he just proceeds to start divvying-up the bread and the fish, and handing the pieces to the disciples to start passing around. He just keeps on doing this, and somehow there’s always another piece to break off until, before it runs out, the several thousand people who were gathered there in the countryside had all had enough to eat. They were satisfied—stuffed, actually, according the Greek verb that Matthew uses to relate the story. Stuffed.

But wait, there’s more. After everybody had eaten their fill, Matthew tells us that the disciples “took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” The baskets are not described, but I’ve always imagined them as bushel baskets with handles, about the size of a typical laundry basket. That’s a fair amount of bread scraps! The volume of the leftovers it itself a sign of the abundance embedded into the miracle itself.

This theme of abundance also turns up in this morning’s first reading from Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We’ve got so much water and wine and milk that we’re not even charging for it. No shortage of anything here! No fear of running out here! Just come and enjoy what you need. Satiate yourself. Stuff yourself!

Then there’s today’s selection from the Psalms, where we get words from the familiar table grace: “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” Curiously, the words “satisfy” in the Psalm translates the Hebrew word that’s the equivalent of the same Greek word that I told you has the connotation of “stuffed.” “You open wide your hand and stuff every living creature.” God’s provision is not stingy or rationed or triaged or meted out in modest amounts. Rather, it is replete with abundance. The inherent nature of God’s provision is that it is generous and full and overflowing. We may not experience it that way this side of the completion of our redemption; it is, to use a fancy theological term, an eschatological affirmation. In the celestial banquet, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we will know the abundance of God’s provision.

In the meantime, however, we have available to us a foretaste, a sneak preview of the fullness of joy that awaits us. We call it the Holy Eucharist. Allow me to draw your attention to four simple verbs that we find in Matthew’s narration of the feeding miracle: take, bless, break, and give. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, he blessed them, he broke them, and he gave them to satisfy the hunger of the crowd.

The four verbs represent the essential action of the Eucharist. We take bread and wine, and set aside this bread and this wine for special, consecrated use. Then we bless it, at some length, in the Eucharistic Prayer. Next, we break the bread, symbolizing the broken body of Jesus on the cross, and the reality that bread cannot be shared and eaten unless it is first broken. Finally, the presider, standing very much in the place of Christ, the true host of the banquet, gives the bread to the people—“the Gifts of God for the People of God.”

In the last generation, most churches in the western rite moved their liturgical furniture around such that the presider can stand facing the congregation, in the position of a host at a banquet. The celebrant in this posture is understood to be an alter Christus—“another Christ,” or in persona Christi—“in the person of Christ.” This accentuates the character of the Eucharist as a foretaste—a premonition—of the sheer abundance of the messianic banquet. It’s a meal at which the food can never run out, because, as many pieces as the host may be broken into, as much as the wine may need to be diluted by water, everyone gets the same amount of the risen life of Christ. Even if we get merely a crumb of bread—or, under non-virus circumstances, a mere drop of wine—we are satisfied, we are stuffed.

My friends, God doesn’t participate in the scarcity economy. His love, and everything that goes with it, is lavishly generous. There’s plenty for everybody, and it won’t run out!

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Saturday (St Joseph of Arimathea)

  • Taught a two-hour seminar in pastoral liturgy (the second of four) to about a dozen people.
  • Packed for an overnight and headed south around 2pm.
  • Arrived at the Diocesan Center about 3:45. Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily. Prayed the evening office in the cathedral. Took an aggressive 60-minute walk: south to South Grand, west to Walnut. north to Washington, back to Second and on down.
  • Drove down to Litchfield, where I am encamped for the night at the Hampton Inn. Edwardsville in the morning.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Friday (St Ignatius Loyola)

Spent most of the day preparing in one way or another for tomorrow's second seminar in pastoral liturgy, held on Zoom. I've taught this material several times before, but not to this many people in a many, many years. So there was some polishing to do. Reached out to a colleague bishop about a priest of his. Had a substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans. Did some routine calendar maintenance. As a spiritual practice, spent some quality time at the piano with the Hymnal 1940. Caught up on some reading.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thursday (William Wilberforce)

Beyond just keeping up with the usual flotsam and jetsam (emails, texts, phone calls), the day's major accomplishment was a deep dive into commentaries on Matthew 22, in preparation for preaching at St Stephen's, Harrisburg (one must always add "hopefully" these days, given the volatility of Illinois with respect to the pandemic) on October 4 (head start on prep steps because four+ weeks of vacation loom). I also had a substantive nearly-hour-long Zoom interview with a potential candidate for one or more of our Eucharistic Communities in transition.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wednesday (Ss Mary & Martha)

  • Another three-hour House of Bishops meeting, which, once again, required preparatory reading. In both plenary and "table group" conversation, we discussed the advisability of creating broad leeway for liturgical experimentation in response to the pandemic. Read: "virtual communion," which, IMHO, is a complete non-starter. The notion did not get a warm reception. A majority also approved a statement on the involvement of federal law enforcement personnel in local disturbances in Portland and other places.
  • Had a substantive phone conversation with Canon Evans.
  • Attended to straggling loose ends pertaining to my agreement with the Standing Committee (now released), clergy deployment issues, "elections & appointments" issues, and the still-in-formation racism study task force.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tuesday

The big rock: A three-hour House of Bishops meeting via Zoom, which required some reading in advance of the meeting.

Smaller rocks:

  • Refurbished a "vintage" sermon text for use in Tazewell Parish on August 9.
  • Nailed down the last open spot (that can be presently filled--still looking for a historiographer) in the Elections & Appointments universe.
  • Attended to sundry texts and emails as they arrived throughout the day.
  • Toward the end of the day, had a tele-medicine appointment with one of Brenda's providers.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Lord's Day (VIII Pentecost)

A long day. Out of the Hilton Garden O'Fallon in time to preside and preach a combined 0930 liturgy at St George's, Belleville. Met (spread out all over the nave) afterward with the MLT and the head of the search team, as they are now at the "getting serious" stage of their transition. Hit the road northbound around 1145, headed for Trinity Chapel in Alton, where I met Mother Cindy Sever and retrieved my alb bag and its contents, which I had left there on Pentecost, and then they suffered smoke damage from the fire at St Paul's and had to be cleaned. The handoff happened at 1230 and continued in a northerly direction for a 3pm meeting with the MLT of St Matthew's, Bloomington (in their parish hall, with everyone literally having an entire round table to themselves, so we were well-distanced), followed by a 4:30 special Eucharist with one adult confirmation,. I presided, but Fr Halt preached, as it was the occasion of his leave-taking from a ten-and-a-half year tenure as rector of St Matthew's. A bittersweet time. Pulled out of the parking lot around 6:00, and, with a stop for a sandwich at Portillo's in Normal, and for gas along the way, it was a little past 9:00 before I got home ... tired, for sure, but grateful to have this ministry. I do enjoy it so.

Sermon for Proper 12

St George’s, Belleville--Romans 8:26-34, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a

 

As you may know, I was raised in a Christian tradition that placed a high value on memorizing scripture, and being able to cite book, chapter, and verse, and all of this beginning at a very young age. One of the verses that I committed to memory, and was of some encouragement and comfort to me as I grew up, is Romans 8:28, which includes the words, “All things work together for good…”. These words often helped me take a long view of things, when the short view wasn’t very appealing. Of course, I remember my mother pointing out to me that this phrase isn’t the whole verse; it’s not a blank-check promise that everything will automatically turn out OK for everybody. There’s some qualifying language: “For we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.” (This is, of course, the language of the King James Version, which is how I memorized my scripture.)

Anyway, adding the bit about “lov[ing] him and [being] called according to his purpose” is an improvement, at least insofar as we’re interested in an accurate understanding of what St Paul is trying to say. But I would suggest that the Revised Standard Version gets us even closer still to where Paul wants us: “God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” This offers us a vision of God as the one who is “operating” and those who love God and are called according to his purpose—which would, presumably, include the community of those who have been reborn in Christ through the waters of baptism—God is operating and those who love him and are called by him are “co-operating” with God in bringing forth good out from and in the midst of conditions that look to us like anything but good.

The whole notion of God operating to bring forth good and people cooperating with God in that project is an immense comfort, because our experience in this life is, at best, a mixed bag—a mixed bag of bane and blessing, pain and pleasure. As we contemplate our sorry state, as we try to salvage some meaning and fulfillment from the challenges and the sorrows that surround us, we instinctively look to the past for clues to the great mystery of our existence. The future, after all, is unknown, and the present is unclear. So we look in the only apparently available direction—backwards. We look to the past for clues to the meaning of what we’re experiencing in the present. Am I being punished or rewarded for something I did? Did my parents make some colossal mistake in raising me such that I turned out the way I did? Is what I’m going through the fulfillment of some ancient prophecy? Did I forget to take my medication this morning? Is it something I ate, or some chemical I was exposed to before I was born? Particularly as we age, and as we slowly but surely acquire a past that is rather longer than any future we might have in this world, our inclination to interpret the present through the lens of the past becomes even stronger.

In fact, you and I are handicapped because we’re living our lives with only a partial map of the reality we inhabit. We are prisoners of time. We are bound by the dimensions of past, present, and future. We cannot conceive of any other way of being. We are by nature incapable of seeing reality the way God sees it, from the perspective of eternity—eternity, where there is only “now,” and no “then,” where there is no past or future, strictly speaking, but only an eternal present. Can you imagine how seeing reality from God’s point of view would change our interpretation of our experience? Can you imagine how viewing our experience through the lens of eternity would give us wonderful new insight into how “God works for good with those who love him and are called according to his purpose”?

Well, here’s the good news: Christian faith offers us just that sort of opportunity. Walking with Jesus as his disciple, and walking with our fellow disciples, gives us a completely new way of seeing and interpreting our experience, which is that the clue to the meaning of the present lies not in the past, but in the future—in Eternity to be completely accurate, but from our perspective, the future. If you feel that your life, if you feel that the whole of human existence, is devoid of meaning and purpose, it could be that you’ve been looking in the wrong place, looking in the wrong direction. The clues we’re looking for lie in the future, not in the past.

You have, I’m sure, had the experience of reading a suspense thriller novel, or watching a suspense movie, for the second or even third time. It can be an enjoyable experience. There are details that you may have missed the first time, or elements of the plot that become clearer and make more sense. You can focus more on matters of artistry and craftsmanship like camera angles and lighting and scene editing and dialogue. But there’s nothing that can duplicate the experience of seeing it for the first time, when you’re engrossed in the actual story. Subsequent viewings—or readings, as the case may be—are more of the head and less of the gut. We may enjoy it even more than we did the first time, but as the story unfolds, we have a lot less anxiety. Why? Obviously, it’s because we know what’s going to happen, we know what comes next. Most importantly, we know how it turns out. We know whether the ending is happy, tragic, or just unsatisfying. Second- or third-time viewers can relax in a way that a first-time viewer never can, because they know how the story turns out.

This is essentially what Jesus is trying to get across to us in what we might call the “parables of expansion”—the mustard seed, the leaven, the pearl of great price. Don’t judge a mustard seed by its present size, which is miniscule. Judge it according to what it will become—an expansive and hearty tree. Look to the end of the story, not the beginning. Yeast look insignificant when you add them to flour and water, but an hour later, it is evident that they are significant indeed. Look to the end of the story, not the beginning. The treasure hunter impoverishes himself in order to acquire a particular pearl. But he knows that he can eventually sell that pearl for many times what it cost him. Look to the end of the story, not the beginning.

This is, of course, also St Paul’s point as he writes the passage that includes Romans 8:28:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Both the pithy language of the parables and the exalted prose of the epistle to the Romans accomplish the same purpose—they both give us God’s eternal perspective. When we look for meaning only in the past, it can be depressing because there’s an awful lot of suffering in the past. I’m talking about my past and your past, and humankind’s collective past. If we look to the past to interpret the present, we are left consumed by anxiety and uncertainty—and this is certainly no way one would want to live! With faith in the one who foreknew and predestined us, and with God working for good in and with us because he has called us according to his purpose, we are able to live with confidence, hope, and joy. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

St James the Apostle

Household puttering. Then packing. Southbound at noon. Got to the office in Springfield at 4:00. Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily. Processed a few things that had accumulated on my desk. Evening Prayer in the cathedral. Took a long walk around the perimeter of downtown. Cleaned up and headed south, stopping at Wendy's on Toronto Road. Got to thee Hilton Garden, O'Fallon at 9:00 ahead of a visitation tomorrow to St George's, Belleville.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday (Thomas √° Kempis)

Once in a while, there's a day when you feel like you're pretty busy all day, but when it comes time to tally up what got done, it doesn't seem to amount to much. This was one of those days for me. Once again, I made a pretty fair amount of progress on "elections and appointments," requiring multiple email chains and phone conversations--to the point where I think it can finally get put to bed early next week. There were also other administrative and pastoral odds and ends. This doesn't happen often, but today I was uncharacteristically active on the Covenant authors listserv, as there were a couple of particularly rich conversation threads. I did a lectio divina on tomorrow's OT office reading in the afternoon, as a Friday prayer discipline.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thursday

The big lift today was producing a sermon rough draft for Proper 13 from my developed outline, hopefully for use at St Andrew's, Edwardsville (we're keeping an eye on increasing COVID numbers in the Metro East). Responded to a very penetrating question from someone in the ordination process. Traded emails with the communicator over the draft of a press release on my agreement with the Standing Committee. Caught up on some reading, which I neglect all too easily (surrendering to the tyranny of the urgent).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

St Mary Magdalene

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Attended the regular weekly meeting of the Province V bishops.
  • Made yet more progress on "elections and appointments."
  • With a series of email exchanges, got a little closer to the goal of forming a task-force to look into any patterns of racism in the life of the diocese.
  • Responded at length to some questions from an individual in the ordination process.
  • Arranged a meeting next week with a potential candidate for one or more of our communities in transition.
  • Did some loose-end tying in the nearly-ready-for-publication agreement between the Standing Committee and me in resolution of our long-standing dispute.
  • Attended to sundry administrative details.
  • Took a long and aggressive walk.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tueaday

The main things:

  • Opened a homiletical file on Proper 22 (prayer, identifying the propers and pasting them into a document, making initial notes after a careful reading.
  • Met for an hour with Fr John Thorpe, new interim Vicar of St Michael's, O'Fallon--just a routine introductory talk-through between bishop and pastor.
  • Initial get-to-know-you meeting with someone at the very beginning of the ordination discernment process.
  • Moved the ball a few more yards downfield in lining up "elections and appointments."

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Lord's Day (VII Pentecost)

It's always a joy to visit Redeemer, Cairo, but it was especially so today. Confirmed two adults, parents of four young children, who came to Redeemer via the parish's martial arts outreach ministry. Celebrated the Eucharist with the largest congregation yet since the resumption of public worship (37, with plenty or room to spread out in a large nave). Then we blessed the building that has recently been renovated specifically as an outreach center. Apart from the church itself, this may be the handsomest interior space in all of Cairo at the moment. What an uplift the whole thing was.

Sermon for Proper 11

Redeemer, Cairo --Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Romans 8:1-25,, Psalm 86

 

I grew up in Illinois—nearly as far away from Cairo as you can get and still be in the same state—in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Then I moved away fifty years ago to go to college and graduate school in California. Then I lived in Oregon for ten years, Wisconsin for three, Louisiana for five, back a different part of California for thirteen, and Indiana for three, before finally coming back to Illinois when I was elected Bishop of Springfield. There were a lot of nice things about returning to the state I grew up in, of course. But I was shocked and disappointed by one, at least, and that is how thoroughly corrupt Illinois politics and way too many Illinois politicians are. Corruption is hard-wired into the political culture of this state. It’s so much part of the environment that it goes largely unnoticed. But after being away for five decades, I noticed. It hit me like a brick wall. This gives a lot of us an uneasy feeling, but nobody seems to know quite what to do.

But it is not only political corruption that feed our uneasy feelings. The first spring that I spent back in Illinois, in 2011, this very community of Cairo was almost destroyed by flood waters. Only a decision by the Corps of Engineers to flood some farmland in Missouri instead saved Cairo. And now ... now we’ve got not a localized flood but a worldwide pandemic of a virus that has killed 7,000 people in Illinois in less than five months. So we are keenly aware of evil in the natural order, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong!  It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't he do something about it?"

But we don't need to even think about the coronavirus or the possibility of a catastrophic flood in order to come face to face with our uncomfortable awareness that something is just not right. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, all we need to do us look into our own church communities, and we are confronted by that reality. We have all, at one time or another, looked for authenticity and found hypocrisy. We have all looked for depth and found shallowness. We have all looked for love and sincerity and found selfishness and manipulation. We are keenly aware of evil right within the fellowship of the church, and a voice deep in our hearts says, "This is wrong!  It isn't supposed to be this way! If God is God, why doesn't             he do something about it?" The garden of life is full of weeds—everywhere at every level. Why can't God just make them go away? We're like the author of Psalm 86, in whose words we prayed just a few minutes ago: “The arrogant rise up against me, O God, and a band of violent men seeks my life ... Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate you may see it and be ashamed.”

And we're like the farmhands in today's gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat, who, as soon as they saw the unwelcome intruders sprouting along with the good grain, wanted their master to do something about it, to authorize them to rip the weeds out of the ground right away. 

We can readily empathize with St Paul when he writes about the "whole creation ... groaning in labor pains" while it "waits with eager longing" for the revelation of God's finished work of redemption. We are annoyed and impatient with living in this interim time between the promise and the fulfillment, between the engagement and the wedding, between the down payment and closing of the deal. We're impatient precisely because we've had a glimpse of the finished product.

Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the crucified and risen Christ fixing breakfast for his friends on the beach. And within the present experience of that same community, the same risen Christ is sacramentally present, fixing breakfast for us at this table. Within the memory of the Christian community, handed on from generation to generation, is the knowledge of the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended with power on the assembled disciples and enabled them to proclaim the gospel with confidence and authority. And within the present experience of each of us who has been reborn in the sacrament of baptism, the same Holy Spirit is alive and empowering us to carry out the ministry to which we have been called. 

We have these glimpses of the kingdom of heaven, of "the glory that will be revealed,” and on the basis of the little bit that we've seen, we want to see it all! We want God to do something, to rip off the veil and reveal the full glory of his kingdom right now! It is to such holy impatience that the parable of the weeds among the wheat is specifically addressed. The weeds in this case are probably something called darnel, which is a plant that looks very much like wheat during all the stages of growth, until near the end, when the actual head of grain appears. The field laborers are impatient and focused on the present. They want to attack the darnel as soon as they see it. But the farmer is patient, and takes a longer view. He knows that if he tries to get rid of the darnel right away,  a lot of good grain will probably be lost in the process. He's confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time, and he's content to have an "ugly" field now in order to maximize his yield in the end. 

The farmer reminds us of God's patient disposition toward his work in our world. There are, indeed, weeds in the garden. God knows that. There are weeds in the natural order, weeds in the social and political order, and weeds even in the community of the church. But God also knows that to pull all the weeds right now would put the wheat—which includes us, presumably—at risk. God is patient—a patience, I might add, which may sometimes frustrate us, but which, more often than not, works to   our benefit. God's patient forbearance means that we have to live with political corruption and floods and racism and deadly diseases and everything else that falls short of the glory of his kingdom. But it also means that those of us who sometimes look and act more like darnel than wheat have the space in which to repent and produce the fruit that we know the farmer will be looking for at harvest time. 

So let us give thanks that God takes a long view, and that he's confident in his ability to sort the wheat from the weeds at the proper time. Those who make wine and beer and cheese will tell us that patience—the ability to resist the temptation to rush the process—is what distinguishes a mediocre result from and excellent one. The quality of what we have glimpsed but which is not yet fully revealed, the glory of things as they shall be, is founded on God's patient forbearance with things as they are.

You and I can respond in one of two ways. We can remain steadfast in our impatience—"If it can't be perfect now then I don't want it at all.” If we make this choice, we plunge ourselves into a lifetime— indeed, an eternity—of bitterness and disillusionment. Or, we can share God's own outlook. We can adopt his patient and forbearing attitude as our own. In doing so, we can rest in the knowledge that we are who we are, and God is who God is. We will, to be sure, continue to "groan" with the rest of the created order as we await the day of the Lord, the fulfillment of all that has been promised. But in the meantime, we live lives of hope and confidence and joy in the glory which we have glimpsed, the glory that will be revealed. 

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Saturday (Jane Austen)

In the morning, did the finish work on my homily for tomorrow, amid sundry domestic chores. Packed up and headed south around 12:30, pulling into the Hampton Inn, Marion 5.25 hours later. Treated myself to Pizza Hut (yes, I'm afraid it's my favorite instantiation of pizza), and did a long bit of walking to and around the other end of the large mall that's in the area of the hotel. Filled out the balance of 10,000 steps for the day. Did a small bit of personal shopping at Wal*Mart.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Friday (William White)

  • Juggled several ongoing email threads--pastoral and administrative, laity and clergy.
  • Selected and invited five persons to join an ad hoc anti-racism study task force. One has accepted. Awaiting the other responses.
  • Spoke at some length by phone with a colleague bishop, by way of personal check-in.
  • Made progress toward re-jiggering a formation plan for a diaconal ordinand. This sort of thing has been made significantly more complicated by the coronavirus.
  • Spend a "holy hour" in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our domestic oratory.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday (Our Lady of Mt Carmel)

Fleshed out a homiletical message statement for Proper 13 (August 2 at St Andrew's, Edwardsville) into a developed sermon outline. Interviewed a soon-to-graduate seminarian about possible deployment in the Diocese of Springfield. Beyond that, and keeping on top of a handful of email and text message threads, I surrendered to the reality that my "work" to-do list is presently well under control and is dwarfed by domestic to-do list, and accomplished a goodly number of household chores and errands.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Wednesday (St Swithun, St Bonaventure)

The big rocks:

  • Regular one-hour meeting of the Province V bishops.
  • One-hour interview of a priest from outside the diocese who is interested in joining us. I would like to have him.
  • Cosmetic surgery on a previously-used homily for Proper 12, preparing it for use on July 26th at St George's, Belleville.

Smaller ones:

  • Ran out to Staples for a printer cartridge. Got to have the office necessities.
  • Quick Zoom meeting to take care of a bit of administrative business pertaining to receiving a priest back into the Episcopal Church.
  • Drafted an amendment to the diocesan canons that I believe is salutary, and sent it to some potential proposers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tuesday

The big rocks:

  • 65 minute meeting with the Standing Committee. Now we have not only an agreement in concept but an agreement on language. We still await a "clean" version of the agreement from our mediator, however. There will be a press release when it's all said and done.
  • 60 minute meeting with Canon Evans. We talked about diocesan assessments and parishes in transition, with brief attention to an emerging potential discipline issue.

The smaller rocks:

  • Prepping for the two meetings referenced above.
  • Responding to a thick stack of email messages that built up over the weekend and on my day off. Many of them required only a short response--but there were a lot.
  • More tangible progress on the "elections and appointments" front.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Lord's Day (VI Pentecost)

Rolled out of the parking lot at the Diocesan Center at 0645 and rolled into the parking lot at St Thomas', Salem a little more than two hours later. Presided and preached at their regular 0930 Eucharist. Had a *very* physically-distanced conversation with about eight parishioners after the liturgy over a range of issues, mostly centered on what the future looks like for them now that they are without a priest following six years of ministry from Fr David Baumann. Around 1145 I pointed the YFNBmobile northbound on I-57 and, with a stop for lunch in Effingham, arrived home in Chicago about four hours later.

Sermon for Proper 10

St Thomas’, Salem--Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, Romans 8:9-17, Psalm 65:9-14, Isaiah 55:1-5, 10-13                     

One of the petitions that we sometimes use in our liturgy during the Prayers of the People is offered on behalf of “those who do not yet believe, and those who have lost their faith.” There is, to be sure, a certain note of faith and optimism in this petition, because we say “those who do not yet believe.” But if you’ve ever prayed that prayer intentionally on behalf of a specific person, then you know that it’s often more an act of the will than an act of faith. The classic example of this in Christian history is St Monnica, who prayed constantly for her son Augustine over some twenty years before he finally came to faith. Others have prayed longer, and gone to their graves without ever knowing the joy of seeing their prayers answered. Such heartfelt and extended prayer can easily seem . . . well, wasteful—wasteful of the time and spiritual energy of the person doing the praying.

But there are other examples in our experience of time and resources poured out in ministry for which there is no immediate and proportional payoff.  A concerned young man reaches out to befriend an “at risk” teenager, hoping to provide some structure or stability, to be a role model, only to have those efforts persistently scorned or rejected. It seems like such a waste of goodwill.  A middle-aged woman makes it a practice, in response to what she feels as a call from the Holy Spirit, to visit nursing home residents regularly and frequently. Yet, she experiences them as largely incapable of understanding and appreciating what she’s doing. It seems like such a waste of consecrated obedience and holy intention.

These scenarios certainly cause us to admire those who invest their lives with so little promise of return on their investment, but they also make us anxious. And our anxiety in turn, if we listen to it, tells us what we really value, what we really consider worthwhile and important. As members of this twenty-first century fast-paced society, you and I are conditioned to place an extremely high premium on efficiency and economy in our lives. We have computers that are ever more capable of multi-tasking, because we demand the same thing of ourselves, and for good reason: The demands on our time and the demands on our money are exploding. Yet, our resources are finite, and we are oh-so-aware of their limits. So we’ve got to be efficient, we’ve got to be economical, just to survive.

Now, with this dose of reality on the table, let’s try to overlay some theology on it, and see where the lumps are. In some sense, all theology is ultimately analogy. That is, we take experiences from our life in this world, and we make statements about God: “God is like…this or that.” Most of the time, doing theology by analogy serves us well. Most of the time—but not all. And one of the ways we can go astray is if we attribute to God the same qualities of efficiency and economy in his expectations for us as we have for ourselves.

Today’s familiar Parable of the Sower reminds us that God’s notion of what is efficient and economical is much different than our own. “A sower went out to sow,” Jesus begins the story. Picture a Middle-Eastern farm worker with a pouch slung over his shoulder, grabbing handfuls of seeds and tossing them, without very much precision, in every direction as he walks through a field. Now, as we hear this parable, we need to understand that Jesus wants us to identify him with the sower, and that St Matthew, the author of this material, wants us to identify the seed that Jesus is scattering with everything that we associate with the Christian message, particularly the essential core of our proclamation, summarized in such liturgical phrases as “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.”

So we have this image of Christ scattering the seed, making his way methodically through the field of human life and experience, tossing the good news of God’s redeeming love in every direction, without too much concern for precision. Some of those seeds fall on the hardened soil of the path, and are eaten by birds without ever having the chance to sprout. Hearts that are hardened by sin and shame and regret and bitterness have a difficult time receiving God’s unconditional love. But the sower keeps broadcasting the good news anyway.

Some of the seeds fall into shallow soil, and sprout quickly, but there’s nothing for the roots to grab onto, so they wither away just as quickly as they sprouted. Some people respond to the proclamation of the gospel, but never count the cost of true discipleship, and they fall away from Christ. Yet, Christ keeps on scattering the seed anyway.

Some of those seeds fall in areas where there are already a lot of other plants growing. The older plants have a head start and choke off the growth of the new seed. Sometimes people respond to the gospel, but are distracted by competing priorities, and neglect to eat from the green pastures and drink from the still waters that the Good Shepherd leads them to. Still, the sower continues to scatter the seed—relentlessly, wastefully, inefficiently, and uneconomically.

And, of course, many of the seeds fall onto rich and fertile soil. They go on to germinate and sprout and grow and bear abundant fruit. Two thousand years after Christ walked this earth; his Church exists in every country on every continent. Millions upon millions of men, women, and children have found life and hope and peace as a result of putting their faith in him and coming to the living water of baptism, given without price, and quenching their thirst eternally.

I suspect that theology-by-analogy might never have led us to a God who takes the extravagant risk of sowing the seed of his word everywhere—in all places and among all people. God scatters the seed of forgiveness everywhere, without regard to who might be around and in the mood to repent and receive the gift. God scatters the seed of reconciliation everywhere, without stopping to notice whether the combatants have laid down their arms. God scatters the seed of vocation everywhere, even when nobody is willing to listen to his call and follow that call. God scatters the seed of hope everywhere, even in places where despair seems to have a chokehold. God scatters the seed of glory everywhere, even when the only thing visible to the naked eye is misery and squalor. God scatters the seed of his word in all types of soil, including those that are virtually guaranteed to waste the seed. But there’s more. The Psalmist reminds us that God not only plants the seed, but waters it: “You visit the earth and water it abundantly.” And St Paul reminds us that God also tends the newly-sprouted plants through his indwelling Spirit.

What encouragement this gives us! St Paul, writing to the Romans, but speaking to us as well, teaches us that, as Christian disciples, we are, as he puts it, “in the Spirit.”

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

With this knowledge, we can be confident that our faithful efforts, wasteful and inefficient as they may seem, are not in vain. Wasted energy is the veritable power supply of the Kingdom of Heaven! The prayers of a wife for her unbelieving husband, a young man extending himself for an at-risk youth, visiting nursing home residents who are unresponsive—these are all more precious than gold in God’s sight. God takes the extravagant risk of sowing His word everywhere—wastefully, and without very much regard for precision. The prophet Isaiah tells us that it’s all a matter of perception:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not again but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purposed, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

So be it. Let’s keep scattering the seed. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Saturday (St Benedict)

Taught a two-hour seminar on Pastoral Liturgy to around fifteen participants. Then, after some domestic puttering around, packed for an overnight and headed down to Springfield. Leveraged the evening daylight for a vigorous sixty minute walk around the perimeter of downtown. Did the finish work on tomorrow's homily. Made a late-night run to Taco Bell. Heading for Salem in the morning.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday

Between all the usual distractions (emails, texts, phone calls), and the added one of needing to camp out in our daughter's apartment in order to make ours available to cleaners, the day's big accomplishment was preparing for a two-hour seminar I'm giving tomorrow (the first of four) on pastoral liturgy. It was conceived as a tutorial for two individuals in the ordination process, but I decided to open it up to others, and it looks like we're going to have a group (via Zoom) of around fifteen. I'm excited.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thursday

The highlights:

  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes for Proper 13 (St Andrew's, Edwardsville) until they yielded a homiletical message statement.
  • Hosted a Zoom meeting of clergy who ar assigned to parishes. We had a discussion about how to think of mission during Coronatide as an opportunity and not only a challenge. We plotted a future course of action. Stay tuned for details.
  • Based on feedback from the editor of the Covenant blog, made some alterations to the draft post I submitted only a couple of days ago. I knew it needed some work, and was grateful to have some specifics pointed out.
  • Handled the usual spate of emails, text messages, and phone calls throughout the day.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wednesday

The highlights:

  • Attended the weekly Province V bishops meeting It was kind of a dark time, in solidarity with the Bishop of Indianapolis, who is black, and within the territory of whose diocese an attempted lynching occurred in a state park over the weekend. She is understandably traumatized.
  • Had a smattering of phone conversations with various diocesan clergy.
  • Made some solid progress in the "elections and appointments" front. 
  • Caught up on a substantial amount of deferred reading (articles, blog posts, the book I'm working through).
  • Attended to a small administrative chore.
  • Tried to process as many emails as possible as they came in, so as not to let them pile up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tuesday

  • Usual AM routine, begun in the back yard, just because it was so nice out in the early morning.
  • Began to deal with a newly-reappearing clergy discipline issue. Never a pleasant thing.
  • Reviewed and tentatively responded to a revised proposal from the representative of a para-church organization that was going to conduct the fall clergy conference that has now been hijacked by other pressing issues. Trying to re-set how they might still help us.
  • Attended to a small but of Communion Partners business.
  • Attended to some tedious administrative details around reinstating a priest who left the Episcopal Church several years ago while canonically resident in the diocese and who now wishes to return to TEC and serve in another diocese. It's necessary to please those who are the stewards of fine details.
  • Usually when I rework an old homily it's mostly cosmetic surgery. The one from 1996 that I'm planning on using the Sunday after next needed to be torn down to the studs and completely rebuilt. (A lot of cultural context has changed in 24 years, but the basic homiletical bones were solid.)
  • Collated the dozen-plus responses I got when I opened up a series of seminars on pastoral liturgy that begins this Saturday, created a Zoom meeting, and sent out the link.
  • Arranged Zoom interviews with two potential candidates for our many (more than two) vacant clergy positions.
  • Built out the broad strokes that I sketched last week for my next-due post on the Covenant blog into a developed essay. Groping toward an authentically Christian response to issues of social justice in a highly-polarized political environment.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Lord's Day (V Pentecost)

Up and out of my Decatur hotel room early--in time to preside and preach at the regular 0730 celebration at St John's. Grabbed a fast food breakfast between services, and then did the same thing at 10:00. St John's is possibly the largest church building in the diocese, so it was no challenge to maintain the proper distance between members of the congregation. Dealing with masks and other precautions while celebrating the Eucharist is becoming more and more a practiced habit. This is as it must be, I suppose. It will be a good while before I take for granted the privilege of being the with Lord's people on the Lord's Day.

Sermon for Proper 9

St John’s, Decatur

Matthew 11:16–19, 25—30, Romans 7:15–25

                                                                                      

Before the end of March, the name “Coronatide” became a bit of widely-used slang among liturgical Christians to refer to this “season of the virus.” When Illinois entered Phase III of the governor’s re-opening schema (we’re now in Phase IV), I started talking about us being in “Stage 2” of the season of Coronatide. We still have to keep our distance from each other, we still have to wear masks most of the time that we’re indoors, and—most sadly, in my opinion—we still can’t assume that it’s safe to sing together when we’re in church, but ... at least we’re here! And what a blessing that is! This is now the fifth Sunday in the last six that I have made a parish visitation, and even under these straitened circumstances, it has been a source of deep joy to once again be with the people of God on the Lord’s Day.

Over the last nearly four months, we have been watching everything that happens get politicized at warp speed, and COVID19 has been no exception. There’s what we might call the dominant narrative: wash your hands obsessively, stay home as much as you can, and when you can’t, wear a mask. And if you’re over 65, by all means, just double down on all of the above. But there’s what we might call a “minority report”: This virus is pretty much like the regular flu, only on steroids, there’s no need to panic, no need to shut down the economy, and certainly no need to shut down churches. Let’s all just be like Sweden and take a chill pill. Before long, though, both of these narratives hardened into a rigid “orthodoxy” of either the left or the right, an orthodoxy that has zero tolerance for any form of questioning or dissent.

So, as I got ready to preach today, and looked at the readings, I found it instructive to compare either side of the kind of polarization we’re seeing to what Jesus suggests is the oppressive regime of the “scribes and Pharisees.” Here’s the context: the basic religious text of Judaism in the time of Jesus was the Torah, what we would call the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Law of Moses. But, over the centuries, a great deal of secondary interpretive literature had grown up that elaborated on the Law of Moses. The scribes and Pharisees considered themselves experts and keepers, not only on the Law of Moses, but on all the secondary interpretive literature. Think of the Torah as the U.S. constitution, and think of all the laws that have been passed by Congress, and all the decisions issued by the Supreme Court, as the domain of the scribes and Pharisees. It was very complicated, and there were innumerable ways that an ordinary Jew could get it wrong, even while trying very hard to get it right. In Jesus’ opinion, the tradition of the scribes and Pharisees was impossibly oppressive, like the competing narratives about the coronavirus crisis. One false move, one wrong “like” on Facebook, and the entire weight of whichever side you offend comes crashing down on you. Jesus referred disparagingly to those who subjected themselves to the regime of the scribes and Pharisees as “this generation.” It’s like a revolution that constantly refines itself into something purer and purer until it eventually consumes its own. We can see this in the French revolution of 1789, the Russian revolution in 1917, the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Arab spring of a few years ago, and now, in a mostly bloodless way, in the polarized orthodoxies of our society, around COVID-19, around racism, or whatever.

How can people of Christian faith respond? We respond by however we behave toward that which is really real, that which is of ultimate importance—spiritual reality, or—we may as well just say it—God. Inasmuch as we act toward ultimate reality out of our learned sophistication, out of our position in “this generation,” as Jesus used the expression, we will end up subjecting ourselves to the oppressive regime of the scribes and Pharisees. We will find ourselves in a state as bizarre and convoluted as St Paul describes in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

What’s the alternative, then? The alternative is to flip the script. We can turn our backs on “this generation.” We can refuse the yoke of the scribes and Pharisees. Instead, we have an opportunity to identify with the “little children” that Jesus refers to in his spontaneous prayer:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

When we act out of our inner “little child,” rather than our faux-sophisticated egos, we become disciples. We become disciples who learn from their Master, the Master who says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” And in doing so we put ourselves in the way of experiencing his “easy” yoke—“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Now that’s a slightly deceptive statement that Jesus makes there—I mean, not that Jesus is being deceptive, but it’s easy to misunderstand. The obligations of discipleship are actually, just in themselves, more difficult than the “yoke of the scribes and Pharisees.” Following Christ is not a walk in the park. What makes Jesus’ yoke “easy” and his burden “light” is not that their demands are easier than those of the scribes and Pharisees, but that they are more bearable. They are more bearable because of who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who meets our deepest needs and satisfies our deepest longings. Jesus is our light and our life, our hope and our wholeness. The yoke that Jesus lays on us, in the greatest of ironies, brings us rest.

To bear the yoke of Christ is to know rest in the center of one’s being.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence Day

Took care of some home front items before packing and heading south at 11:00. Had a scheduled conversation with a priest of the diocese along the way. With a stop for lunch and gas in Dwight, I arrived at the Diocesan Center at 2:30. My main job in the office was to do the finish work on this weekend's homily and get it printed. Mission accomplished. Changed out of my comfy traveling clothes and into my less comfy working clothes. Drove the 30 miles to the Decatur area and checked in at the Hampton Inn in Forsythe, a Decatur suburb. Got somewhat settled in the room, then drove the 3.5 miles to St John's, arriving 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled 5:00 Eucharist. Visited a bit with Interim Rector Gene Stormer. Presided and preached the Mass. Visited, at an appropriate distance, and wearing masks, with a handful of parishioners. Back up to Forsythe for my first indoor restaurant dinner since March 7. Other diners were 15 or 20 feet away from, and servers were masked. Macon County is "green," which means the virus is considered "close to containment." I felt more than reasonably safe and really enjoyed the meal.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday

  • Conceived and partially developed my next post for the Covenant blog (something on how Christians might engage issues of justice without adopting the vocabulary and categories of our polarized secular politics).
  • Took a deep dive into the latest literature about the safety of singing in church. There are lots of conflicting opinions from seemingly competent and reputable scientists out there. Still deferring to an abundance of caution, but felt secure in lifting the ban on outdoor singing.
  • Crafted what I hope is a careful and well-intentioned response to a petition I received earlier in the week from some of the clergy of the diocese politely demanding that I take certain actions about the recently heightened national awareness of systemic racism. It can be found here.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Put some finishing touches on a plan for seminarian financial aid for the 2020-21 academic year.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday

Made significant progress in several areas, including lining up candidates for elections and appointments that need to be made at synod in October, broad-stroke planning for some version of a clergy conference in November, finding ways of engaging mission during this transitional phase when the pandemic is no longer an emergency that requires daily innovation, but still a significant and unpredictable long number of months before it's "resolved." I don't like the expression "new normal," but there is at least an "interim normal" that we need to get our arms around. Also did exegetical work on the readings for Proper 13, spoke by phone with clergy from both inside and outside the diocese, and took care of a substantive piece of pastoral-administrative business. And through it all, I managed to smoke a pork shoulder, which yielded a pretty taste pulled pork dinner.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Wednesday (Precious Blood)

  • A morning full of Zoom meetings--8:00-9:45 (a group of bishops from the U.S, Canada, the Church of England, and two African provinces, discussing a reconciliation initiative that will remain on the "down low" for a while) and 10:00-11:00 (the usual Province V meeting).
  • Since my brain was pretty well fried at the point, I set out with Brenda on an extra-long (1 hour, 45 minutes) walk.
  • Late lunch from leftovers.
  • Did cosmetic surgery on a "vintage" homily for Proper 10 toward the end of making it usable on July 12 at St Thomas', Salem.
  • Did a detailed analysis of the Eucharistic Communities that are or will soon be in transition, as well as a catalog of potential candidates in play that might fill those vacancies. Shared this with Canon Evans by email. There are more vacancies than candidates at this point. We have our work cut out for us.
  • Cleaned up my computer desktop, a routine regular maintenance chore.
  • Attended to some small administrative and pastoral matters.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tuesday

The big rock today was a nearly two-hour meeting with the Standing Committee and our mediator, which generated odds and ends of other communications. The good news is that we have reached a substantive agreement in principle, with only the proverbial fine print remaining to be settled. An announcement might realistically be expected by the middle of next week. It will be good to have this energy-sapping experience in the rear view mirror. Apart from this sad enterprise, it was a typical Tuesday, which means I got caught up on administrative and pastoral tasks generated over the weekend. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Lord's Day (IV Pentecost)

Showed up at St Michael's, O'Fallon well ahead of their regular 0930 Sunday liturgy--except it hasn't been so regular lately: this was the first time they have offered in-person worship since the lockdown has eased. There were 20 in attendance, all having indicated their presence in advance. The leadership did an excellent job taping off access to pews so as to ensure appropriate physical distancing. It was a joy to be with them for the occasion, and I could tell they were quite happy to be moving back in the direction toward normal. Still a long way to go, though.

Sermon for Proper 8

St Michael’s, O’Fallon--Matthew 10:40–42

 

Jesus is very popular these days in church circles. That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but it hasn’t always been the case in recent decades. Oh, it’s generally been OK to talk about God. But, among Episcopalians at any rate, to mention the name of Jesus, except when reading from or preaching on a passage from the gospels, was, for a good long while, a little ... awkward. The dominant emphasis has been on social concerns: issues of peace and justice—you know, almost as if it were one word, peaceandjustice. Most Episcopal Church sermons were shot through, at least implicitly, with the word “should.” We should be getting out there and making the world a better place, a more peaceful place, a more just place. Jesus just didn’t get mentioned very much.

Then, maybe twenty years ago or so, there were those WWJD bracelets: “What would Jesus do?” When Michael Curry became the Presiding Bishop five years ago, even Episcopalians joined the bandwagon. We have been invited to think of ourselves as the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”  Everybody—from pro-life to pro-choice, from protesters to police, from megachurches to storefront churches, from free-market capitalists to Marxist socialists, from traditional marriage conservatives to LGBT and all the other initials that come after them progressives—everybody is trying to hitch their wagon to Jesus.

Jesus is having a moment.

But we may well wonder, is Jesus being exploited? Is Jesus being hijacked? 

Jesus tells his disciples in the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” We certainly want to be among those who “receive” Jesus, right? So we certainly want to have confidence that we are receiving those whom Jesus sends, those who speak for Jesus.

But how can we achieve such confidence? How can we know that we are in such a position? How can we be sure that we are receiving those whom Jesus sends, those who speak for him? I suspect that one of the first things we need to do to attain such confidence is to somehow insulate ourselves from what the gospels call “false prophets”—those who purport to speak for Jesus, those who pretend that they are messengers of Jesus, but who are, in fact, deceptive imposters. From what we do know of Jesus in the gospels, I would like to name three of the hallmarks of false “prophets,” false representatives of Jesus.

First, anyone who incites or encourages or otherwise supports hostility based on race or ethnicity or some other ancient enmity between human beings is a false prophet. Why? Because Jesus came among us, even to the point of surrendering his life, in order to forge a new “nation,” a new “ethnicity,” out of the remnants of all the others. In St Paul’s day, “Jew” and “Gentile” were the ethnic identities most likely to be exploited. Today, as we continue to attack the cancer not of simple racial prejudice or animus, but of deeply-embedded systemic racism that structurally perpetuates the power of those who hold it and the powerlessness of those who lack it, there are those among us who trade on fear and attempt to enflame hatred. They are false prophets who do not speak for Jesus. Reject them.

Second, those who foment division based on status—economic, social, educational, political—are false prophets. Why? Because, in Christ, these divisions are robbed of their meaning. In several different places, St Paul tells us that, in Christ, all the divisive categories into which we sort one another are meaningless. In his day, those categories were, in addition to Jew or Gentile, things like slave or free, male or female. We still have those categories today, but we are more apt to focus on black or white (or brown, or any other skin tone), educated and uneducated, rich or middle class or poor, developed world or developing world, influential or powerless. The identity “Christian” is the God-given alternative to any of the other identities the world invites us to embrace. Anyone selling another identity as your hope is a false prophet. Reject them.

Thirdly, those who advocate violence or manipulation—either physical, emotional, or economic—for the purpose of achieving their objectives, even good objectives, is a false prophet. Why? Because God is a God of life and health, and every human being bears God’s image. God desires human thriving. Those who intentionally get in the way of the thriving are false prophets. Reject them.

By contrast, then, authentic prophets, authentic “apostles”—those who are sent (which is the root meaning of the word “apostle”), those who are sent to speak the word of God, also have distinguishing characteristics, of which I will name three:

First, authentic apostles proclaim good news that promotes human flourishing. Those who come saying that they represent Jesus, and have a message of hope and deliverance (rather than scolding and shaming), have earned a hearing. That doesn’t mean that everyone who has an optimistic frame of mind is an apostle, but an apostle has at least that much.

Second, authentic apostles preach and model reconciliation. Possibly my favorite collect in the whole Prayer Book is the one we use on the Sunday before Advent—Christ the King. It talks about a world that is “divided and enslaved by sin” being “freed and brought together” under the “most gracious rule” of Christ our King. A true messenger of Jesus will be passionate about reconciliation.

The third mark of apostles is that they teach the faith of the church that Jesus founded and left the Apostles [upper-case A] in charge of. We have scriptures and creeds and ancient liturgical forms—and, for that matter, bishops—for a reason. These things keep us grounded in the bedrock of God’s revelation to humankind in Jesus Christ.

Finally, if we are to “receive” Jesus by receiving those whom he sends, what does such “receiving” look like? Well, for a third time, I’ve got three things to say. (I swear, this is the first time I’ve ever done this in a sermon!)

First, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of listening and heeding. If we have learned how to spot and avoid false prophets, and then how discern authentic ones, it becomes a matter of simply paying attention, and then acting somehow on what we hear. More easily said than done, no doubt, but ... there it is.

Second, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of supporting them. Jesus uses an image of minimalism—a cup of cold water—to represent what he’s talking about. Stewardship comes into play here, certainly, but also prayer and encouragement. Not everyone is necessarily called to be on the front lines of taking the gospel into the world, but if we’re not among those landing parties, we should strongly consider the probability that we are called to support them from the rear—financially, materially, with prayer and encouragement.

Third, receiving those who speak for Jesus takes the form of emulating and joining them. You had to know I would get to that eventually, right? We are called “Christians,” after all, and the Christ—the messiah, the anointed one of God—is none other than Jesus. If we are called by his name, we ourselves are his messengers, carrying the gospel of reconciliation through the blood of his cross into the world, and looking for that cup of cold water as a token of support.

Those who receive the representatives of Jesus receive Jesus himself. Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday (Our Lady of Perpetual Help)

Packed for an overnight and his the road southbound at 0930. While en route, had a substantive phone conversation with the senior warden of a Eucharistic Community that will soon be in pastoral transition. Arrived in Springfield right on time for my 1pm red cell donation appointment at the blood bank. That took about an hour. Grabbed a burger at Freddy's, then headed to the office. Did all the finish work on my homily for tomorrow. Attended by email to a handful of smaller tasks that have been piling up for a few days. Prayed the evening office in the cathedral. Got back in the YFNBmobile, and, with a stop for a chicken sandwich in Litchfield, arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn in O'Fallon around 7:45. Dismayed to see large numbers of children and adults (part of a traveling sports league, evidently) milling about enthusiastically, neither wearing masks nor keeping a physical distance. I would hate to see the lovely recent infection curve in Illinois head back in the wrong direction. Checked my email, which generated a substantive phone conversation with a lay leader in one of our other vacant parishes.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday

The bigs stuff:

  • Attended the regular summer meeting of the Department of Finance, the task of which is to draft a proposed operating budget for the coming calendar year. We didn't quite meet that goal, for various reasons, so we're going to get together again in early August.
  • Developed a rough draft of a homily for Proper 9 (July 5 at St John's, Decatur).

Smaller stuff:

  • Witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church on the part of a priest who was last canonically resident in Springfield before serving one of the African provinces. He is now called to serve in the Diocese of Central Florida.
  • Made some decisions about committee assignments at the next diocesan synod.
  • Responded to sundry emails and text messages.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Thursday

  • Devotions, intercessions, and Morning Prayer in the cathedral around 0715.
  • Finished breaking camp in my office and headed to the Hardee's drive-through for a pork-and-gravy biscuit. (Yes, that's a thing.)
  • Stopped for gas right before getting on I-55 and took the opportunity to dial in to the 0845 board meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. That kept me occupied for about an hour and got me most of the way to Bloomington. Then it was back to an action-adventure audio book, which always does a brilliant job making the miles fly by.
  • Home right at noon, when it was then time to join (via Zoom) a meeting of the House of Bishops. This lasted right around an hour.
  • Needed some time to decompress. Hung out a bit with family in the back yard. Then took a long walk through the neighborhood with Brenda on a gorgeous afternoon.
  • I had a task list looking at me, but I never actually got to it. There was just a thick pile of little things--too little to late-arriving to have even yet made it onto the task list--that occupied me until it was time to make dinner--emails, phone calls, texts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nativity of St John the Baptist

Got my day organized and otherwise situated. Then, packed for one night away and headed out the door at 10am. While en route, I connected to an extended meeting of the Province V bishops (via audio only, of course). With a gas stop and a lunch stop, I arrived on the west side of Springfield about four hours later, and was overjoyed to be able to get a haircut for the first time since late February! Then back to the office to change clothes and sign/seal an ordinations certificate. Took a phone call from a Senior Warden. At 3:45 I headed south to Carlinville, where, at a 5pm liturgy with a very small guest list and everyone in masks, I ordained Professor Carter Aikin to the transitional diaconate. Despite the restrictions (not being able to sing being the most onerous), it was an utterly joyful occasion. After a bit of outdoor and distanced visiting, it was back to Springfield for me, with dinner from the drive-through at Chick-Fil-A. Camped out at the residence I maintain here (aka my office).

Sermon for Carter Aikin Ordination

Nativity of St John the Baptist, 2020                                                             

Psalm 85:7-13, Isaiah 40:1-11

 

This is, by any standard, a memorable occasion. It would be even under “normal” circumstances. I still retain and cherish some very powerful memories of my own ordination to the transitional diaconate, now slightly more than 31 years ago. But to have an ordination in this time of the virus—with a very elite guest list, masks, and no singing—escalates the memorability of the event to an entirely new level.

The liturgy of the word a few minutes ago put us in touch with this snippet from the 85th Psalm: “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him.” We’re doing what we’re doing here tonight as a result of a listening process: Carter has for years been listening to the soft voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of Jesus himself saying, “Carter, follow me. Follow me over here specifically.” Carter’s family and friends and colleagues at Blackburn College have been listening—listening to Carter, and listening to the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds. The community of St Paul’s Church has been listening, listening and discerning. The Diocese of Springfield has been listening. “I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him.”

At a key moment in the liturgy this evening, right after the laying-on of hands, I will give Carter a Bible. This is obviously not because he lacks one, or has never read the Bible. Rather, it’s a robustly symbolic act. The giving of the Bible is a sign of Carter’s authority to proclaim God’s word. Again, this isn’t anything new. Carter Aikin has been proclaiming the word of God in a variety of contexts for a rather long time. But he is being ordained tonight to speak with authority, with the authority of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that we profess in the Nicene Creed. I don’t want to make it sound magical, but there’s a profound change that takes place in a person—in a person’s being—when the sacrament of holy order is conferred. Yet, that isn’t really the significant part. The significant part concerns the discipline by which Carter will now be formally governed in his proclamation of the Word of God. He is tonight surrendering the freedom to speak as Carter Aikin, and embracing the yoke of accountability to the Holy Scriptures and to the Church’s tradition. He becomes the consummate “company man,” understanding “company” to be “the blessed company of all faithful people” that we mention in the Rite One postcommunion prayer. Carter is being ordained to say stuff—not his own stuff, but the stuff he is given.

John the Baptist, whose natal feast we keep this evening, was born to say stuff. The stuff he was supposed to say is presaged in the passage we heard earlier from the 40th chapter of Isaiah: “Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” Here is your God. That was essentially what John the Baptist was tasked with saying as he pointed unfailingly to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world.”

Here is your God. I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.

So, Carter, what a great patron saint to have at the beginning of your ordained ministry!

But what, more precisely, is Carter to be saying as he speaks on behalf of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? To use a clich√© that you’ve probably all heard, a preacher’s job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The first part is to be found easily enough in that passage from Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” Those who are as formed by the tradition of sacred music as I am cannot help but hear that text, in a slightly different translation, as set to music in Handel’s Messiah. The one who is authorized and empowered to say, “Here is your God, behold your God” speaks of and for the God who, to borrow the words of Our Lady in Luke’s gospel, “has mercy on those who fear him in every generation,” the one who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.”

But what about the second part of the preacher’s job, the part about afflicting the comfortable? Well, John the Baptist’s own ministry is a more than ample resource for this. Pastors and preachers do well to learn a dynamically equivalent version of “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and incorporate that into their vocabulary. Once again, Our Lady’s Magnificat points us in a helpful direction: “He has scatted the proud in their conceit ... he has cast down the mighty from their thrones ... and the rich he has sent away empty.” Now, if I have any counsel after 31 years, it’s that the “carrot” is best used in the pulpit and the “stick” in other circumstances. But both the carrot and the stick, both comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, are elements of the ministry of God’s word.

But, whether Carter is comforting the afflicted or afflicting the comfortable, he must, like John, always be pointing away from himself and toward Jesus. Jesus must increase, and Carter must decrease. Tonight is an important flex point in that journey of decreasing that began when he was baptized and will conclude only when he is able to look God in the eye and not be pulverized, knowing even as he is fully known.

If all of this happens, regardless of what words get spoken, the message that gets heard will be that, through Carter’s ministry, Christ will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Carter, my brother, please stand. You are receiving Holy Orders on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. You know the story, I’m sure, of how when it came time for the infant John’s circumcision, everyone was astonished when his parents—Zechariah his father having had to write it on a slate because he had been temporarily struck dumb—how John’s parents had to insist that his name would indeed be John. What you may not know is that the name John means “God is generous.” I invite you to adopt generosity as the governing theme of your ordained ministry. God has been extraordinarily generous with you, as I suspect you would be the first to agree. Now you are called to pay that generosity forward, on God’s behalf, by being generous toward those into whose way you are placed. I have every confidence that he who has begun a good work in you will bring that word to completion, to the glory of his name.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.