Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Wednesday (St Vincent of Saragossa)

Usual AM stuff. Fleshed out my homiletical message statement for Lent II (St Thomas', Glen Carbon) into a developed sermon outline. Did some calendar maintenance in anticipation of making the transition from January to February. Took care of some straggler details pertaining to the SKCM Mass. Then, at 1115, headed northwest to a hotel near the airport for a gathering of the bishops of the Province V dioceses. We do this a couple of times a year. We talk about a range of stuff, but I can't say much, since it's a "what's said here stays here" kind of arrangement. Had dinner with them at a nearby restaurant. Home around 8:15.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tuesday (St Agnes)

  • Routine weekday early AM.
  • Processed a stack of emails that have arrived in the last couple of days, on a range of issues.
  • Did necessary surgery on a "vintage" sermon text on Epiphany III, in preparation for this Sunday at Trinity, Jacksonville.
  • Fixed an anomaly in our database program. We are now set up to receive online payments and donations.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Attended briefly to liturgy preparation for the clergy retreat next month.
  • More homiletical surgery, this time on an old text for Candlemas (Presentation), which falls on a Sunday this year, and when I'll be "supplying" at Trinity, Mt Vernon.
  • Spent most of the remaining productive time of the afternoon closely examining commentaries on the third chapter of John's gospel, in preparation for preaching on Lent II, again at Trinity, Mt Vernon (this time for my regular visitation). It is a happy privilege to be able to do this sort of close study.
  • Analyzed my calendar to come up with a proposed date to formally celebrate the new ministry of Fr John Richmond at Christ the King, Normal.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic oratory.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

As the service time at Christ Church, Springfield was not until 1015, I had plenty of time to get myself put together, grab some breakfast at Charlie Parkers, and load up the car before heading over there. Presided, preached, and confirmed one young man, duly keeping the feast with a congregation that was a bit thin because of the holiday weekend. After some post-liturgical socializing, I stopped by St John's Hospital to look in on and anoint Fr Gus Franklin, whom I had just learned has been there for the last few days. Got myself headed north in time to arrive in Chicago around 3:45.

Sermon for II Epiphany

Christ Church, Springfield--John 1:29–42

In church circles, including Episcopal church circles, there has been a definite uptick over the last decade or so in the use of the word “discipleship.” I can remember when it was almost never mentioned—well, among Episcopalians, at any rate—but that’s changed. We hear it quite a bit now. In general, that’s a good thing, in my opinion. It’s certainly a big improvement from only a few years ago, when there was a reluctance to even mention the name of Jesus, let alone talk too seriously about following him.

Discipleship, though, is not a simple thing. It looks different to different people. For some, following Jesus looks like taking on all the social evils of the world. This certainly includes the standard “leftwing” evils of sex and gender discrimination, threats to reproductive choice, income inequality, climate change, prison reform, and the like. But there are also “rightwing” “Social Justice Warriors” for whom Christian discipleship involves opposing evils like abortion, crime, the cataclysmic re-definition of marriage, the collapse of personal morality, erosion of civil liberties, government overreach, and the list could go on. And, I would suggest, there are evils that are pretty much non-political, things that everyone can get enthusiastic about opposing, regardless of their political views: addiction, terrorism, human trafficking, and child abuse—because, you know … this is what Jesus would do, right?

Then there are those, in my experience, for whom Christian discipleship is about trying one’s best to become a “good person”—following Jesus’ example, behaving toward others the way we would have them behave toward us, cultivating virtues like humility and generosity, striving for spiritual fruits like patience, gentleness, and self-control.

(Of course, there are many people—an increasing number, it appears—who think Jesus was, at best, an irrelevant fool who may not ever have even existed, but they’re not likely to even claim to be Christian, much less be interested in discipleship.)

Today we see Andrew and Peter—or Simon, as he is named initially—and, presumably, John, though he is never named—we see these three “inquirers,” I think we can call them, two of whom were disciples of John the Baptist—we see them drawn to follow Jesus. This takes place right after his baptism by John the Baptist, which, you may recall, we celebrated liturgically a week ago. It’s not hard to wonder … why? We are understandably curious about what motivated them to go to such lengths to seek Jesus out, to find him, to end up staying with him—staying with him not only that night, but all the way to the cross and the resurrection.

The answer, of course, is both simple and profound. Andrew and Peter and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the One for whom their people had been expectantly waiting for centuries, the One who was, as John the Baptist named him, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And, as readers of John’s gospel, we have the added advantage of having seen Jesus revealed as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and as the very Son of God.

How did this affect the lives of these three neophyte disciples? Well, it upended them! They left their homes and livelihoods and followed Jesus all the way to the cross—some backing away for a bit then, but coming back together in the Upper Room—all the way to the cross and on to the empty tomb. And then they became heralds of the Christ to the point of their own martyrdom, John bearing his final “witness” in exile rather than in death. In the process, these disciples, along with the ones who were called after them, built the Church. We should not fail to note the prominence of Peter in this narrative, the first among the disciples to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the one to whom Jesus would promise the keys of the kingdom. We who bear on our brows the mark of the cross of Christ are the heirs of these first disciples.

Would the way most of the world—including ourselves—would the way we recognize Jesus lead to such a witness? Could it? Does your understanding of who Jesus is upend your life? What, exactly, is different about you because you are a disciple of Jesus? Does being a disciple of Jesus affect the decisions you make about your career? About your education? The kind of house you live in? Does it affect how you spend your money? Does it influence what you do with your discretionary time? Does it affect how you vote?

Here’s the thing: The way we follow Jesus—that is, the character and quality of our discipleship—the way we follow Jesus is determined by who we think he is. If Jesus is, for us, a political activist or a community organizer, that’s where discipleship will take us. If Jesus is, for us, an uncommonly good person, a shining moral example, an exceptionally wise philosopher and teacher, then that’s where our discipleship will take us.

But if we believe Jesus to be the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, then we will give our lives to him wholly. We will be unreservedly at his disposal in the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, and the way we spend our emotional energy.

Here this prayer from John Wesley, a priest of the Church of England in the late 18th century, although he’s most well-known as the founder of the Methodist movement:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Who is Jesus? The way we answer that question determines what we think it looks like to be his disciple. We can think he’s a social reformer, of either a leftwing or a rightwing variety. We can think he’s a shining moral example or an inspired teacher. Or we can agree with Peter, and acknowledge him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, and then join John Wesley in giving ourselves over to him wholly. Who is Jesus? As Andrew said to his brother Simon, so I say to you, “Come and see.” Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Confession of St Peter

Up, put together, and across the alley for devotions, intercessions, and Morning Prayer by myself in the cathedral by around 0815. Then to the west side IHOP for breakfast (I declined their specialty and had an omelette, so I was able to feel self-righteous for a while). Back at the office, I processed a bunch of email, then prepared for my 11 o'clock appointment with a postulant to assess his prior theological education and plot a course of any necessary remediation. Then I met with him for about an hour, which was a very productive encounter. Picked up some lunch from Dynasty Cuisine down on South Grand (a Chinese place) and brought it back to the office to eat while I watched an episode of a Netflix TV show). With intermittent breaks to attend to emails and texts, the main accomplishments of the afternoon were the finish work on tomorrow's homily (Christ Church, Springfield) and significant progress toward preparing the corporate worship at the clergy retreat next month. Evening Prayer in the cathedral. Dinner at Longhorn.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday (St Antony of Egypt)

Up at 0445 and on the road southbound at 0525. Arrived at Green Mazda in Springfield at 0845, checked the YFNBmobile in for a service appointment, and was ferried to the office by Canon Evans, who met me at the dealership. Processed a few issues with him, one of the most "visible" of which was a pile of books and other materials on the conference room table, where they had been placed so the walls could be painted. We're leveraging the staff change to take care of some needed capital maintenance. Most of the books, along with the state-of-the-art 1995 AV equipment should be re-homed, and we are taking step to do so. Then, from 10 to noon, two diocesan priests and I conversed withe a candidate for ordination in order to certify that he has indeed been trained in the areas prescribed by the canons. We determined that he has. Fr Ashmore, one of the examiners, drove me down to get my car, and after a trip through the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A, I kept a 1:15 blood donation appointment. That put me back at the office an hour later, where I spent the rest of the afternoon clearing out my email inbox, my physical inbox, organizing the tasks that were already awaiting me, and actually engaging three or four of them. Met briefly with the Dean about the SKCM Mass. Evening Prayer in the cathedral. Braved the freezing rain for dinner at Friday's.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thursday

  • Usual weekday AM routine.
  • Consented to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Oklahoma (grateful that they found the technology to make this chore take place completely online). Shared some observations about the bishop-elect with the Standing Committee.
  • Traded emails with the Administrator on an HR issue.
  • Traded emails with the Communicator over some database issues.
  • Read and Facebook-shared the Covenant post for the day.
  • Passed on to Canon Evans a message from the "national church" office.
  • Brainstormed on finding someone to take over the task of coordinating the diocesan prayer calendar. After spending some time scouring the database, I ended up posting on the diocesan Facebook page soliciting volunteers.
  • Roughed out a project that The Living Church asked me to take on--a 1,000 word pamphlet on "Christmas joy," taking a break to lunch on leftovers. This project, in fact, consumed most of the rest of the productive time in the afternoon. Trying to hew to a word-count target makes writing more complicated.
  • Several emails traded with the Communicator over a range of issues.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wednesday

Yesterday proceeded efficiently and calmly. Today was more chaotic, with what seemed like non-stop distractions--all important and worthwhile in their own right, and a major unexpected rabbit hole (I seem to have misplaced the new sticker and for my license plate, and the accompanying renewed registration, all which expire at the end of the month, so ... waiting to hear from the Secretary of State's office as to what I need to do). Also spent two hours taking Brenda to a dental appointment. In the midst of the storm, I did manage to take care of some Communion Partners business, bring the liturgy program for the SKCM Mass within a couple of yards of completion, reach out to lay leaders in vacant or soon-to-be-vacant parishes, and open a sermon file on Lent II (Trinity, Mt Vernon). I have high hopes for tomorrow being more orderly.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tuesday

  • Intercessions, Morning Prayer, tea, breakfast, crossword, social media skimming.
  • Responded in some detail to a handful of emails that have been hanging.
  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes for Epiphany VI (St Thomas', Glen Carbon) and brought forth a homiletical message statement.
  • Applied myself once again to my (ongoing, apparently) project of trying to manage (with a light touch) the extraordinary demand at present for supply clergy and the relative shortage of priests who can fill those needs.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Took a 75-minute vigorous walk on a sunny and (for mid-January) mild afternoon.
  • Paid attention to a matter pertaining to the provincial ECW.
  • Attended to a brief report from the treasurer of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, the board of which I am a member.
  • Caught up on some Covenant blog reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

First Sunday after the Epiphany

This was one of the rare occasion when it was possible to make my scheduled parish visitation as a day trip from our Chicago home. Brenda (who can come with me when I haven't had an office day in Springfield) and I were on the road at 0725 and rolled in at Christ the King, Normal precisely on our target of 0945, half and hour before their service time. Presided and preached on only the second Sunday in cure for new priest-in-charge Fr John Richmond. There were 38 in attendance, which is a good Sunday for CtK, and we enjoyed a fine potluck meal after the liturgy. We were back in our apartment just a little past 3pm. 

Sermon for Epiphany I: Baptism of Christ

Christ the King, Normal--Matthew 3:13-17

Today we celebrate the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which is an annual feast  commemorating what is surely one of the strangest and least understood events in the life of our Lord, but which is recognized as something that, in all likelihood, actually did happen, even by those scholars who are skeptical of just about everything else that the gospels record.

I’m referring, of course, to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. On the surface, it strikes us as harmlessly quaint, but confusing, since it’s hard to tell just what it might mean. To the early Christian communities, it wasn’t quaint and it was more than confusing—it was downright embarrassing. The baptisms that John was performing were intended to be tokens of repentance and forgiveness of sins. But Jesus was supposed to be the Sinless One. So…how come he got baptized? Why does the Sinless One get baptized for repentance and forgiveness?

I’m sure that a good part of the reason we have trouble wrapping our minds around this particular feast day is because we have so far failed to discern any vital connection, any living link, between Jesus’ human experience and our human experience. Maybe we haven’t really internalized the Church’s teaching that Jesus is 100% human—like us in every respect except that he never yielded to the impulse to resist God’s love.

But, for whatever reason, the fact that Jesus worked and played and laughed and cried and hungered and thirsted and felt everything else we feel—the fact that Jesus was the most “normal” person who ever existed—is either something we overlook completely, or is a bit of information we simply don’t know what to do with.

So . . . what do we have to do to establish this missing connection? How can we make the human experience of Jesus come alive and relate dynamically to the way we live these lives of ours? Let me offer this suggestion: We need to learn to think of Jesus as a trailblazer. “A trailblazer?” you ask. No, I’m not comparing Jesus to an SUV or to a basketball player from Portland! What I have in mind is an old-fashioned literal trailblazer—a person who heads off into uncharted, unknown territory, perhaps cutting the brush from his path with a jungle machete. The job of a trailblazer is to create a path that others can follow. What lies ahead is unmapped, and therefore unknown. A trailblazer finds out what’s there and maps it and reports on it. A trailblazer finds out where all the pitfalls and booby traps and wrong turns are—and he acquires this information through personal experience.

A trailblazer also serves as a guide. He creates the trail, he marks the trail, and he leads others along the trail by walking ahead of them. That way, nothing can happen to the travelers that has not already happened to the trailblazer.

Jesus is our trailblazer through the ups and downs and twists and turns and water hazards and sand traps of this life. There is not any place we can go that Jesus has not already been, blazing a trail for us. If we’re frightened, Jesus has prepared the way for us by experiencing fear in the Garden of Gethsemane. When we feel deep love for friends and family, Jesus has prepared the way for us by his relationship with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. When we’re in a mood to let loose and have a good time, Jesus has prepared the way for us at the wedding reception in Cana and any number of dinner parties at which he acquired a reputation as a bit of a party animal. When we’re hungry and thirsty, Jesus has prepared the way for us when he retreated to the wilderness for forty days following his baptism. And when the time comes for us to leave this world for the next, we will find that Jesus has prepared the way for us when he drew his final breath hanging on a cross.

For those who are connected to Christ through the waters of baptism, Jesus is our trailblazer, and this is how we come to realize the relevance of Christ’s own baptism and the feast that we celebrate today. We know his baptism to be that which makes our own baptism possible. It is in the baptism of our Lord that we are introduced to the idea that there is no aspect of our experience where God has not already been,  there is no place we can go where we don’t see Jesus right ahead of us, preparing the way.

The great fourth century theologian and bishop St Hilary of Poitiers put it this way:
It was not because Christ had a need that he took a body and a name from our creation. He had no need for baptism. Rather, through him, the cleansing act was sanctified to become the waters of our immersion.
In order to “prime the pump” for his total identification with the human condition, Jesus submitted to a baptism of repentance for which he had no inherent need. He did it for us. His baptism prepares the way for ours. Even in the waters of the font, we find a note from God that says, “I was here.”

When we fail to make this vital connection between Jesus’ experience—including his experience of baptism—and our experience—including our experience of baptism—we are left feeling like the burden is on us to find our own way out of the misery that is the human predicament. We are left feeling like it’s up to us to make some sense out of a loved-one being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or a huge country like Australia literally on fire, with tens of millions of animals being killed. We are left feeling like it’s all on us to make whatever arrangements we might be able to make for our own welfare, both in this world and whatever world there might be beyond this one.
But when we assume this burden, what we may not realize is that we are, in effect, firing Jesus from the most significant part of his job description. We are reducing him to being a good example, a cheerleader, and a comforter. This is all nice, but it really doesn’t do much for us.
If we’re well-taught, we understand Jesus to be a savior who gets us off the hook with God and somehow makes it possible for us to live with God in his heavenly kingdom for eternity.

Well, that’s something to get pretty excited about, but it’s kind of abstract and hard to wrap our minds around. So, it is only when we see the profound connection between Jesus’ human experience and our human experience—a connection that is made particularly evident in the event of his being plunged beneath the waters of the Jordan River by John the Baptist on that day in the Judean wilderness—it is only then that we can fully “get it,” only then that we can see and know that Jesus has secured for us our portion in the joys of his coming kingdom. It is then that we realize with gratitude that it’s not all on us to make sense of this life, that we are travelers on an expedition, an expedition that he is leading, blazing a trail for us to follow.

Amen.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday (William Laud)

  • Usual early AM routine,
  • Got myself registered for the March meeting of the House of Bishops in Texas, and made air travel arrangements for the same.
  • Took the developed outline of my homily for Epiphany II and worked it into a rough draft. This is in preparation for preaching at Christ Church, Springfield on January 19.
  • Lunched on leftovers,.
  • Took some steps toward gaining a clearer picture of the need for supply clergy in our Eucharistic Communities through April, and of the available resources. This involved a couple of emails and the creation of an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Worked on a couple of different projects in connection with our hosting the SKCM Mass on February 1 at the cathedral. Created this blurb.
  • Friday devotions: Ignatian meditation on today's daily office gospel reading.
  • Dealt with a mission strategy-related project.
  • Evening prayer in our domestic oratory.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thursday

Once in a while, a day comes along that just never seems to get traction. Today was productive, as I look back on it, just not in the ways I had planned on. Phone calls and urgent emails seemed to keep pouring in, deflecting from the work I had *planned* on doing. Through it all, the "big rock" accomplishments are a draft of the liturgy program for the SKCM Mass on February 1 (which resulted in several email messages to the organist), a preacher finally confirmed for the occasion after a series of setbacks, some administrative backfill to help Canon Evans get up and running in his new position, and a handful of other smaller pastoral-administrative items. Not a bad day at all, just a different one than I had expected.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Wednesday

  • Customary weekday AM routine.
  • Wrote, and scheduled for sending at the appropriate time, greetings to clergy with nodal events in January ... that I haven't already missed! To the ones I missed, my apologies. This is one of the casualties of not being in the office as frequently as I used to be.
  • Read and processed a proposal from an academician in the diocese with whom I am planning an "Anglican heritage" tour in France and England for the late spring of 2021.
  • Read and processed yet another Mission Strategy Report.
  • Stepped out for an appointment with my primary care doctor. He prescribed some new meds, and we both hope I'm going to get ahead of this cough that's been plaguing me for nearly three weeks.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Thought through and plotted the various tasks necessary to make the 2020 Chrism Mass happen.
  • Sat down with commentaries and did the exegetical work in preparation for preaching on Epiphany VI, at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
  • Made three trips to the nearby Walgreen's to fill two prescriptions. One bureaucratic snafu after another. Frustrating.
  • Did an audit of the Eucharistic Communities that have not yet submitted Mission Strategy reports for 2019. Made appropriate followup plans.
  • Throughout the day, exchanged several emails with the Communicator over various things, including publicity for the SKCM Mass we are hosting next month,
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Tuesday

In the midst of continuing to battle a lingering, often violent cough, some productivity happened:
  • Carried on an ongoing email dialogue with the Communicator across a range of topics.
  • Tied up more administrative loose ends pertaining to the recent staff change.
  • Read and processed the most recent 2019 Mission Strategy Report to arrive.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (Christ the King, Normal).
  • Completed, refined, and submitted my most recent essay for the Covenant blog.
  • Dealt with a bit of Province V business.
  • Had a pastoral conversation by phone with one of our clergy,
  • Took a long and vigorous walk on a decent, if not quite beautiful, January afternoon.
  • Prayed both the morning and evening offices.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Second Sunday after Christmas Day

It was a long and productive morning at Trinity, Lincoln: Presided and preached at 0730, put a final gloss on Fr Mark Evans' catechesis of five young adult confirmands between services; presided, preached, and confirmed at 0945, refueled at a catered coffee hour with "heavy hors d'oeuvres," met with the Mission Leadership Team to discuss transitional issues, as their rector is now a member of diocesan staff and will be phasing out of his ministry at Trinity over the next few months. It was on the road northbound at 12:45, and home three hours later, having been well-entertained by an audio book.

Sermon for Christmas II

Trinity, Lincoln--Luke 2:41-52

Every day, I use a number of devices that are intended to help me accomplish my work more efficiently, and to therefore make my life easier. They do—and yet they don’t, because it seems like I’m busier than ever. I think there’s a rule that decrees that, for every advance in technology, there’s a corresponding increase in expectations, such that the increase in efficiency or convenience offered by the technology is nullified by an increase in what we demand of ourselves.

And I know I’m not unique. We lead busy lives. Many years ago, I reached a point in my life where I realized I have more money than time and energy. So I pay people to do things I may once have done for myself—wash the car, do routine yardwork, do my taxes, take care of minor electrical and plumbing repairs around the house—and the list goes on. These are tasks that I probably have the intelligence to learn how to do, but we don’t own the necessary tools, and there would be way too much frustrating trial and error before I would ever get something right. Now, what about auto repair? Well, many years ago—some decades ago, actually—I used to change my own oil and filter, but, once again, the lube-while-you-wait places are way too convenient, and time is way too precious. So, nowadays, I don’t even change my own wiper blades—I’m just not mechanically gifted, and I don’t know that I could ever be taught to do anything more sophisticated than checking and changing out a fuse.

Have you ever bought or sold a house? I’ll bet you dealt with a licensed real estate agent. It’s possible not to, but it’s a lot smarter and easier to do so. Have you ever gotten sued, or needed to sue somebody, or been prosecuted for anything more serious than a minor traffic offense? Have you ever been audited by the IRS?  Only a fool would represent himself in court, and most of us would certainly want a pro by our side if an IRS auditor were across the table.

Perhaps not many of us have ever needed to negotiate a really big business deal. But I’ll bet every one of us has entertained at least a brief fantasy about hitting all the numbers on the lotto and wondering what we’d do if we were suddenly responsible for a zillion dollars. In any of those cases, we would be smart to learn four little words: “Talk to my agent.” We use agents to transact our business in nearly every area of our lives. Sometimes we don’t even have to show up personally—there are certain legal matters that a lawyer can take care of for us by going to court on our behalf

Now, what I’m leading up to, as you may or may not have guessed, is that every human being also has “business” to “transact” with God. This fact has perhaps been more apparently self-evident to other people in other cultures and other times than it is to us, however. It was particularly evident to our spiritual ancestors, the people of ancient Israel. They had a very concrete notion of sin, a very legalistic notion. There were relatively few subtleties or opportunities for rationalizing their behavior. But there were very clear laws about what to do and what not to do, morally and ritually. These laws governed personal behavior, domestic behavior, public and community behavior, and religious behavior. To violate any of the laws was to offend God, to dishonor the holiness of God. So the Law of Moses prescribed very specific remedies for dealing with such offenses. Some of these remedies were punitive in nature, others were symbolic and cultic. The symbolic and cultic remedies all involved some form of sacrifice, ranging from a small amount of grain—which was, in effect, a fine—to live animals: birds, sheep, goats, and cattle. There was one ritual in which the priest would confess the sins of the people over the head of a goat, and then send the goat off into the wilderness. It was thought to be carrying the sins of the people away. The most solemn and public of the animal sacrifices involved the beast being ritually slaughtered, in the Temple in Jerusalem. Once a year, on yom kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest took the blood of a bull and entered the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the seat of God’s visible presence with His people, and offered the blood as an atonement for all the sins of all the people. He was acting as the agent of the people, doing something for them that they were not able to do for themselves. He was transacting their business with God. The Temple, of which there was only one, was more than a fancy place for the Jewish people to gather for worship. Its significance was much more profound than that. It was the sign of God’s interest in the people, and the place where the important business between God and the people was transacted.

As Christians, we know that Jesus is our high priest—our “once for all” high priest. He is also our scapegoat, bearing the sins of the people into the wilderness, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And, most significantly, he is our sacrificial victim, offering himself on the cross in atonement for our sins. When Jesus was twelve years old, St Luke tells us, his family made its annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, one of the great sacrificial occasions that took place there in the Temple. Apparently, they were traveling as part of a large extended family group, because Mary and Joseph at first didn’t miss him when he wasn’t around as the group started back for Nazareth. But eventually they did, and they headed back into the city to search. After what were surely some frantic moments, where did they find their twelve-year old child? In the temple, carrying on a learned conversation with the teachers there. And when they gently suggested that he might have let them know of his plans, or even, you know, asked permission, his response is penetrating. Jesus says, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Now, Mary had just said, “Your father and I were looking for you,” referring to Joseph. But twelve-year old Jesus is obviously not talking about Joseph when he says he needs to be in his Father’s house. He is referring to his Heavenly Father, whose earthly house was the Temple.

Now, it would be good for us not to get bogged down trying to analyze the psychology or the human dynamics of this encounter, or try to draw a lesson in parent-child relationships, or some such, because that’s not what it’s about. To fully grasp what’s going on here, we have to look at the big picture of Jesus’ relationship with the Temple. He was, of course, a Jew. He was a member of that community for which the Temple was the place where business with God got transacted, through their agents, the priests. When Jesus was forty days old, his parents brought him where? To the temple, to offer the sacrifice required by the law. Then there’s this incident when he was twelve. On the day of his triumphal procession to the gates of Jerusalem a few days before his death, Jesus visited the temple with his disciples. Later that week he caused an uproar by driving out the money-changers from the Temple courts. And at the moment of his death on the cross, there was an earthquake, and the veil of the Temple, the curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies, the seat of God’s presence, was torn in two. In retrospect, many passages in the Old Testament that speak of the Lord’s messenger visiting the Temple have been seen by the Church as referring to the Messiah, to Jesus. It is in this broad context that we need to see this incident of twelve-year old Jesus in the Temple. It’s as if we had a retrospective glimpse of twelve-year old Babe Ruth surveying the grounds on which Yankee Stadium would be built. Jesus is in the Temple, the place of doing business with God. Our agent is staking out the territory. He’s not there yet to act on our behalf, but that time will come soon enough. In fact, the deal that Jesus, our agent, will make for us with God will render the Temple and everything it represents obsolete. As supreme High Priest and supreme sacrificial victim, Jesus will make the one necessary sacrifice, offered once for all people in all times—the sacrifice that reconciles us to his Father and ours.

Jesus was our agent, transacting our business with God, when he gave himself over to death on the cross. And he didn’t perform a service that you and I would have been capable of doing if we only had the time. He didn’t exercise a skill that we could also attain if we just read the right book or took the right class or earned the right degree. What Jesus accomplished for us, you and I are utterly incapable of doing. He cut a deal for us that we could never have cut for ourselves.

And Jesus our Agent is still out there working for us. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed just a few decades after Jesus’ parents found him there talking to the teachers. But now the work of Christ continues in the Heavenly Temple, of which the Jerusalem Temple was a mere copy, a shadow. Christ our Agent continues to plead our case, transacting business with God on our behalf, business that we are not competent to take care of ourselves. Every time we come together to offer the Eucharist, we participate in that ongoing work. Whenever Satan accuses us in God’s presence, and says, “You’re just a pack of sinners, and you belong to me, so pack your bags for Hell,” our response is simple, and it’s a response we make at this or any other altar where the Mass is celebrated: “Talk to my agent.” Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Saturday

In view of my early start yesterday, I allowed myself a modest "lie-in" (as the Brits would say), emerging to go say my prayers in the cathedral around 0830. Then off to Charlie Parker's for breakfast. Back in the office, I worked on processing the accumulated hard-copy on my desk until my 1100 appointment arrived. It was Fr Mark Evans, newly-appointed Canon-to-the-Ordinary. This was pretty much a first "on-boarding" conversation, and lasted a couple of hours. Off to Chick-Fil-A for lunch, followed by a small but of personal shopping at Office Depot and Meijer. Back at the office once again, I finished the desktop clearing I'd begun earlier, and carried on an email conversation (with a very happy outcome) about the music for the Society of King Charles the Martyr Annual Mass we are hosting on February 1. Then out for a long and brisk walk as the afternoon faded. It was the first time in several days that I've felt well enough to do this. I then did some more administrative followup on the personnel change, with a long memo to the Administrator covering various points. Penned a note to a friend who has been elected bishop, but whose consecration I will not be able to attend. It was about 7pm by the time I'd broken camp and loaded the car. Drove the four blocks down to Bernie & Betty's for ravioli, then up to Lincoln to get settled for the night at the Hampton Inn.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Friday

.... aaaand we're back. The pace of my life slowed a good bit around Christmas, as I expect was the case for you as well. It picked up a good bit this week, but not as much as I would have liked, as I've had a lingering bug that has made itself known as acute bronchitis. So I'm on three medications that I'm hopeful will have a salubrious effect in due course.

In the meantime, I was due to be back in the office today, so I toughed through my symptoms and made the trip down--metaphorically at the crack of dawn, but literally a full 90 minutes, at least, before sunup. Got myself organized, and then had a discussion with a staff member wherein we plotted a quick path toward his moving on from his position. If you're in the diocese, you got an email about this. Such things are never a pleasant experience, but sometimes needful. I followed this up with a handful of related administrative actions. The rest of the morning allowed me to do the finish work (refine, edit, print, schedule for posting) my homily for this Sunday at Trinity, Lincoln, and do some cosmetic surgery on a "vintage" sermon text for "regifting" at Christ the King, Normal a week from this Sunday. Lunch consisted of an overpriced, but delicious, hamburger from 5 Guys. I guess that fact that it was delicious explains how that can get away with charging so much. The afternoon found me processing a substantial amount of email "on the fly," and engaging the time-consuming task of plotting my sermon prep work for the period between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday. Spent some time in meditative prayer in a dark cathedral (not quite qualifying for the "holy hour" label it bore in my task list), following by the evening office. Dinner at Pie's the Limit piazza. Then an early bedtime.