Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday

At the clergy pre-Lenten retreat at King's House in Belleville. Two superb addresses from Bishop Ed Little. An afternoon a one-on-one conferences. Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evensong--at which both Brenda and I played major music roles. This isn't actually a retreat for me--it's work--but I'm delighted to have a hand in providing this experience for the fine clergy of the Diocese of Springfield.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday (Janani Luwum)

Usual early AM routine. Got organized, packed, and out the door southbound with Brenda at 10:45. With a stop for lunch in Romeoville and brief foray to the office in Springfield, we were at King's House in Belleville five hours later. We both immediately got to work preparing musically for the 5:30 evensong (she on the piano, I on the organ)--we divide our duties by the type of music ,,, I do better with chants, she with hymns). Dinner, then the opening session of our clergy pre-Lenten retreat, where the presenter is my old friend, Bishop Ed Little.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Already in Glen Carbon since last night, and with the liturgy at St Thomas' not until 1030, I had a rather humane pace to my morning. Slept in until 0700, got packed up, said my prayers, and enjoyed breakfast at the Waffle House in Collinsville. My eldest daughter is a Waffle House fan, and she told me, "If you get it, you get it." Well, I'm not sure I get it, but I can now say I've given it a try. It was certainly an unobjectionable breakfast. We duly kept the Lord's Day at St Thomas'. It is an untellable joy for me to share with our communities in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Every single time. On the road again a little bast 12:30 and home a little before 5:00. I now thank God daily for audio books.

Sermon for Epiphany VI

Matthew 5:21–37, 1 Corinthians 3:1–9
St Thomas’, GlenCarbon                                                                     


From today’s gospel: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” These are the words of Jesus, and if we pay attention closely, it might seem strange to hear him talk about “offering your gift at the altar,” because, while Jesus was a practicing Jew, that expression pretty much makes perfect sense in a fully-developed Christian context, as when we place our offering in the plate as it comes by, and, in most churches, representatives of the congregation bring the bread and wine up, and it’s all—money, bread, and wine--offered at the altar. Well, as it turns out, Matthew’s gospel is the most “churchy” of the four. He doesn’t do it in this passage, but Matthew is the only one among the four evangelists to actually use the word “church” in his gospel.

And in this passage, as is the case in the other passage where the word “church” comes up, “Matthew’s Jesus” is concerned about church unity—or, more precisely, about the clear fact that there is disunity, that there is strife within the Christian community. This shouldn’t come as a shock to us, because, two-thousand years later, there is still disunity and strife, both between churches—that’s why we have something called ecumenism—and within churches: witness the last decade-and-a-half of quarrelling and lawsuits among Episcopalians and recently former Episcopalians in this country. And, nobody can deny that there is disunity and strife within local congregations: turf battles over who gets to do this or decide that, people getting entrenched in particular roles for decades, with nobody quite knowing how to challenge the status quo, inability to be direct and open about conflict, so there’s an abundance of whispering and secrecy, people using leaving and the threat of leaving as a manipulative tool, or just as a coping mechanism, because they literally don’t know what else to do. This is all truly scandalous, of course. It’s the biggest single impediment to mission and evangelism that we face.

St Paul wrote two letters to the Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth, a church that was no stranger to disunity and strife. Paul’s awareness of divisiveness among the Corinthians is evident in the passage we have this morning. He tells them he cannot even address them as “spiritual people,” because there is so much “jealousy and strife” among them, that they are not proper Christian adults, but are “infants in Christ.” It’s not apparent in today’s selection, but dissension in the Corinthian church affected even their observance of the Eucharist; Paul spends quite a bit of time on that later in the letter. As a pastor of more than thirty years’ experience, speaking in a congregation whose pastor has more than fifty year’s experience, I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the communities I’ve served, like the Corinthians, have been made up of too many people who are also … too many of us are also “infants in Christ,” who can only be fed spiritual “milk” because they’re not ready for “solid food.” Three weeks ago, using different material, but also from Matthew and I Corinthians, I suggested that the antidote to disunity is shared discipleship. (You can find that sermon on the diocesan website if you’re curious.) Today, I want to affirm what I said three weeks ago, and also point out that yet even other resources available to us to combat strife and disunity among Christians. Among these resources are what we already have—each other. We have the discipline of the church’s communal life, our life together.

Now, when I say “discipline,” I don’t mean principally things like rules and regulations—you know, canon law. I’m talking about something rather more natural, more organic. You know, of course, how each of our lives is constrained, channeled, by the particular circumstances of our life. Thirty years ago, I played first base on a church softball team. I could competently field ground balls and dig out hard throws from the shortstop from the dirt, and hit the ball out of the infield a decent percentage of the time. I haven’t played competitive softball since that time. There’s certainly no law or regulation saying that I can’t. And, while, in my fantasies, I still could, in reality, I realize that, at age 68, I can’t anymore. My life is naturally constrained, organically disciplined, by my age and health.

Our decision to live with one another in the Body of Christ, a decision flowing from God’s own decision to include us in that body, constrains and channels us in certain ways. A couple of decades ago, I was a huge fan of the TV series The West Wing, as I suspect some of you were too. Quite often, I found myself envious of the characters in that show, because they were able to do something I cannot do, and that is, to use a metaphor, “play hardball.” They were able to use skullduggery, chicanery, manipulation, and blatant exercise of power, to do what they needed to get done. As a Christian, and still more as a Christian leader, those tools are not available to me. I have often wished they were. But I have countless times vowed to live otherwise, to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. My life is constrained, channeled, by my Christian identity. I realize that I desperately need those with whom I feel myself to be in conflict. They are the very means through which God will work to save me, to convert my soul to him. My perceived enemies are also my saviors, because God uses them to bring my holiness to perfection, to call my wandering heart back to him. We all live by those same constraints, and when we honor those constraints, it becomes a lot more difficult to be at war with those whom we know we need so desperately.

And then, to put a fine point on it, there’s the Eucharist. In a very powerful novel called Hurry Sundown, that became a movie starring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine, there’s a scene that takes place at the communion rail of an Episcopal church in the south during the Jim Crow era. There are actually two churches involved—one for whites and one for blacks—both served by the same (white) priest. A new priest is being ordained for this cure, and the liturgy takes place in the white church, but there are members of the black congregation present. A black woman makes her communion from the chalice, and then, when it’s presented to the older white man next to her ... he spits in it. I found that moment utterly shocking when I first saw this movie fifty years ago, and, to tell you the truth, I still tremble a bit even telling you about it. The truth is, those who commune next to us at the rail are our sisters and brothers. And, as you know, we don’t get to choose our siblings, either our biological siblings or our spiritual siblings. I can have worthy opponents in the councils of the church, but once I have shared the Peace of Christ with them and joined them in receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, they cannot be my enemies. They are family, and it’s my duty to love them even if they drive me nuts. Our mutual participation in the Eucharist with those who otherwise afflict and trouble us forms us in holiness. It fosters the demeanor and character that we need in order to be able to live in God’s nearer presence without being turned to dust.

Accepting these gospel truths can sometimes be more than a little bit uncomfortable for us Americans who live in a culture that cut its teeth in radical individualism, personal autonomy. We don’t like constraints of any sort! But gospel truths they remain, whether or not we like them.

The church, my friends, is a community that breaks us. The late New Testament scholar Reginald Fuller, in commenting on today’s passage from Matthew, says: “The better righteousness that the kingdom of God requires covers not only overt behavior but also inner motive. God’s demand for obedience is absolute and total, claiming the whole person in the entirety of his or her relations.”
We are not free to give rein to our petty narcissism. I am not free to play hardball. The Eucharist itself compels reconciliation. And it is precisely in the Eucharist that we find the grace which alone can put us back together as the re-membered Body of Christ. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday (Thomas Bray)

Across the alley for prayers around 0715. The down to McD's drive-thru for a sausage McGriddle. Got my office encampment packed up and the YFNBmobile loaded. Headed south at 0905 to Edwardsville, where I pulled into the parking lot at St Andrew's about 70 minutes later. Presided at the institution and induction of Fr Ben Hankinson as rector of the parish. A good time was had by all, and I have high hopes for the future of St Andrew's. Long and high-quality visiting with a variety of folks at the reception. Then I ambled over to the Hampton Inn in nearby Glen Carbon (where I am visiting St Thomas' in the morning). Got my stuff into the room and ,,, no computer. Turns out I'd left the whole bag--laptop, iPad, and computer glasses--in my office. Without really giving it a second thought, I just drove to Springfield and retrieved it. The jaunt consumed about 2.5 hours. Grabbed some (disappointing) barbecue in Collinsville, and am calling it a night, having surrendered my hopes for a semi-productive afternoon. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday (Ss Cyril & Methodius)

  • As is now my wont on most Fridays, I was out of my garage at 0520, headed south. Arrived at the office right at 0845.
  • Got myself organized for the day. Responded to a couple of urgent emails.
  • Signed and sealed the certificate for Fr Hankinson's institution tomorrow at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Took a phone call from a consultant who is working one of our parishes.
  • Spent the rest of the morning with Canon Evans covering a variety of issues, mostly thinking through (and plotting on newsprint) the clergy ordination and deployment mill for the next couple of years, taking into account the needs for supply and interim work in the meantime. It seems we have a good crop in the pipeline (to mix metaphors), but the payoff sweet spot doesn't arrive until about 15-20 months from now. In the meantime .... workarounds.
  • Lunch with John Roth, my ELCA counterpart bishop. We always have a good time of pretty rich conversation.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (St Thomas', Glen Carbon).
  • Took a document down to INB to sign it in the presence of a notary. This will allow St Mary's, Robinson to give an easement to the local water company.
  • Did some followup work on the morning's near-term deployment conversation--involving a spreadsheet and multiple emails.
  • Printed and folded the six service leaflets for worship at next week's clergy retreat.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Thursday (Absalom Jones)

  • After prayers, tea, and breakfast, I trudged through the cold and falling snow a mile to keep my chiropractic appointment. Back home a little before 10:00.
  • Dealt with some late-arriving email and a phone call.
  • Spent some time on the treadmill to pick up the balance of 10K steps after my earlier walking.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes on the propers for Lent V (St George's, Belleville) until they yielded a homiletical message statement.
  • Spent long quality time with commentaries on Matthew's gospel in preparation for preaching at the cathedral on Palm Sunday.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wednesday

  • Usual early AM routine.
  • Took an unanticipated phone call, which provoked another one, over a serious pastoral-administrative matter.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for a preaching gig at Nashotah House on March 5. This took a while.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Tried to wrap my mind around possible travel itineraries for July, when we will be paying a (fairly brief) visit to our companion diocese of Tabora (Tanzania), then heading to Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference. The details made my head swim, and the matter is still in flux.
  • Attended to a matter tangentially related to the subject of the morning phone calls.
  • Built out my homiletical message statement for the First Sunday in Lent (Holy Trinity, Danville) into a developed sermon outline.
  • Prepared service sheets for the two celebrations of the Eucharist at next week's clergy retreat.
  • Reviewed the file of information from an individual seeking to enter the ordination process.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tuesday (Our Lady of Lourdes)

Beyond the early routine, the morning was pretty well consumed by optometry exams, and the ensuing purchase of new lenses and/or frames, for both Brenda and me. It's frustrating that such things take so long. The afternoon was more productive, with multiple email conversations, ranging from technical administrative tasks to clergy deployment to retreat liturgy planning to review of draft bulletins for upcoming services to sermon preparation, and more. Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

After having been traveling a big chunk of last week, and with a 600 mile round trip Friday night and yesterday, I had kept today free of a parish visitation. (I have to triage stress on the Brenda-care system.) So we were pew-sitters this morning. Spent much of the afternoon and evening plowing through a hefty batch of short-to-medium tasks--responding to emails, doing some Chrism Mass liturgy planning, speaking by phone with the Senior Warden of one our Eucharistic Communities, consenting to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Minnesota. Also got a chunk of reading done.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Saturday

Up and out in Mattoon in time to continue the southbound journey begun last night by around 0845. Arrived in Mt Carmel about 20 minutes ahead of the 1100 meeting with the MLT from St John the Baptist. It was a standard vacancy consultation, in light of the fact that Fr Hazelett is retiring at the end of the month. There have been too many of these conversations lately! Lunch with two of the MLT members, then back on the road. Arrived home at 6:20.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Friday

  • Usual weekday early AM routine.
  • Dialed in to a conference call meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr board.
  • Processed accumulated emails. Made an aspirational task list for the day,
  • Focused on a handful of clergy retreat, Living Church, and clergy deployment issues.
  • Lunched on leftovers from Brenda's birthday dinner last night.
  • Dialed in to a Zoom video conference call, along with Fr Newago, as we investigate a potential mission strategy resource.
  • For my Friday special devotion: did a lectio divina on tomorrow's Old Testament daily office reading.
  • Worked out on the treadmill.
  • Got organized a packed for an overnight trip.
  • Stepped out to lick up some delicious brisket tacos for dinner.
  • Hit the road with Brenda at about 7 :15. We arrived at Mattoon's Hampton Inn about three hours later. On to Mt Carmel in the morning.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Thursday

Cleared out of my room at the Diocese of Central Florida's conference center in the Orlando suburb of Oviedo and behind the wheel of my rental car at 0720 EST. Uneventful trip to the airport, arriving in plenty of time before my 0950 departure. Enjoyed some breakfast at a Ruby Tuesday in the terminal. Landed at O'Hare pretty much on time, right around noon CST. Home a little more than an hour later. God reconnected with Brenda, processed a thick stack of emails, took a phone call from a colleague bishop about a priest who is canonically (but not physically) resident in Springfield, and made a phone call to Canon Evans to discuss a pastoral/administrative matter. Eventually, took Brenda, along with our oldest daughter, out to a nice dinner to celebrate her 70th birthday.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Wednesday (Martyrs of Japan)

Day two of two for the Communion Partners meeting in Orlando. We discussed this summer's Lambeth Conference and how best to manage our presence there, some issues around organizational development, and our relations with the Anglican Global South movement. We concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist and dinner.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Tuesday (Cornelius the Centurion)

In Oviedo, FL (near Orlando) meeting with a group of Communion Partner bishops, rectors, and lay leaders, from the U.S. and Canada. about 20 in all. We spent the morning talking about the situation in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England, the afternoon about the Episcopal Church, and the evening about the Global South and GAFCON. Between the sessions, over meals and refreshments, it's refreshingly live-giving to be with colleagues and friends who are relatively like-minded, and whom I don't see very often.

Monday, February 3, 2020

 Monday (St Anskar)

Up, packed, and on my way to O'Hare by 0930 in order to catch the 1140 departure to Orlando. I'm here at the Diocese of Central Florida's Canterbury Retreat & Conference Center for a meeting of the Communion Partners (U.S. and Canadian bishops, and a handful of clergy and lay leaders) for the next couple of days. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Across the alley for Morning Prayer in the cathedral at 0645, then out of my office encampment and on the road southbound an hour later.  Pulled into the parking lot at Trinity, Mt Vernon right at my 10:00 target, thirty minutes ahead of their regular liturgy. Presided and preached for the feast of the Presentation (Candlemas). After a simple brunch I met with the entire congregation to talk about their future, since they are now without a priest at the helm. It was a fruitful conversation, and I believe the general level of anxiety was significantly lower when I left than when I arrived. The next few months will be challenging, and we all agreed that grace will abound and, together, we can get through it.  I then met with the Mission Leadership Team for a bit of a deeper dive into the financial condition of the parish. By 1:20, I was headed toward I-57 northbound and the four-and-a-half hour drive back home to Chicago.

Sermon for Candlemas

Trinity, Mt Vernon--Luke 2:22-40, Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18

I have learned over time that one of my chronic disabilities is that it is that, when I meet somebody new, it is sometimes difficult for me to remember what he or she looks like apart from the physical surroundings in which I normally see that person.  So, if I first meet you in church, and expect that that's where I'll see you again, and soon thereafter we happen to run into one another at a convenience store, there’s a good chance I won’t recognize you. This is embarrassing sometimes, but I do eventually learn what the regular characters in my life look like. Fortunately, there are enough people in the world who are good at remembering names and faces to compensate for those, like me, who aren't. 

But all of us, nevertheless, are conditioned, to one degree or another, by what we expect, by what our experience sets us up to see or hear. When I'm in a particularly jovial mood, one of the tricks I like to play on people—kids, usually—is this:  spell "pots"        (like in "pots and pans"). 

Go ahead and spell it out mentally to yourself. 

Now spell "post".

Now spell "spot". 

Now spell what you do when you come to a green light. 

How many of you just mentally spelled out s-t-o-p? If you did, you're a hazard to the rest of us, because we go at green lights and stop and red ones! But now you know—we see what we're conditioned to see, what we're set up for.

This tendency has a much more serious significance than as the foundation of a corny practical joke. As children of this contemporary age of science and technology, you and I are conditioned to assume that if something can be touched or seen or heard or measured or otherwise accounted for scientifically, then it has a certain status as credible reality. Conversely, if someone makes a merely rational or intellectual assertion, or testifies to a purely spiritual experience, then we tend to be skeptical. We withhold judgement until there's ... what? Until there's proof; that is until some objective, properly controlled experiment can verify what's been said. 

Back in a previous lifetime, when I was a salesman, I found that one of the most powerful phrases I could use was the expression "studies have shown... .”  It didn't matter so much what study, or who did it, but only     that there was a study. Statistics have a ring of authority. We see what we're conditioned to see, and we're conditioned to see that which can be scientifically verified. Yet, there are those people who claim that there are other ways of seeing, other ways of experiencing reality. These other ways of seeing don't contradict science so much as they simply lie beyond its reach, outside its scope. 

The two elderly characters in today's gospel—Simeon and Anna—are among those who testify to an alternative way of seeing, a way of seeing that is developed and cultivated by long years of waiting, and thousands of hours of praying. A way of seeing that is practiced quietly and privately by people in every country on every continent. For some, it's a well-worn habit. For millions of others, it's an occasional blessing, sometimes an unwelcome one, which soon fades and returns them to the "normal" scientific way of experiencing reality.

In this supposedly “normal” way of experiencing reality, we see and understand the events of our lives, and the events of all our lives—that is, life in general—as a random chain of cause and effect relationships. We're born with a particular set of genes that determine our looks, our talents, and, in a large measure, our health. We grow up in a particular environment: parents, siblings, money—or lack of it, education—or lack of it. We meet certain people, develop certain relationships. Sometimes we're at the right place at the right time and on other occasions we're at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the sum of all these random shufflings and re-dealings of life's deck of cards, when all is said and done, constitutes our biography. That's the way we see it, or, that's the way we're conditioned to see it, at any rate. 

There were those, no doubt, who were present at the temple in Jerusalem on that day 40 days after Jesus's birth who saw nothing out of the ordinary. Jewish law required women to come to the temple forty days after giving birth to be ritually cleansed; in effect, to mark the conclusion of the mysterious, dangerous, and absolutely essential condition of pregnancy and new motherhood. And since long-standing tradition was that God had a special claim on firstborn males, if the child was a firstborn male, he had to be “redeemed” by the sacrifice of an animal. If the parents couldn't afford a lamb, the price of this redemption was the sacrifice of two pigeons or turtledoves, which is what Mary and Joseph brought with them to the temple on this day. 

There were probably other sets of parents and children there at the same time to do the same thing. The great majority of them saw nothing out of the ordinary about the man and woman and child who are the focus of our attention. We see what we're set up to see, right? We can see life as a series of chance encounters, of being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time, or we can see life as the medium of God's presence and God's activity. 

This was the way Simeon and Anna were able to see it, and they, among all the people at the temple that day, were     the ones who didn't just look right through Jesus, who didn't lose his face among all the others in the crowd. Simeon and Anna were conditioned, by years of waiting and praying and believing, to recognize "the consolation of Israel,” the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed-one of God. And when they laid eyes on Jesus, they saw what they were conditioned to see. They recognized the long-expected Jesus, the one who is the light of the world—the one whose life and ministry and death would be a scandal, a sign of contradiction, to the religious environment, and which would inflict bitter suffering on his mother ("a sword shall pierce your own soul also," Simeon's oracle went). 

St Luke the Evangelist, author of this gospel, also had the gift of sight which Simeon and Anna shared.  He was able to see the Holy Spirit as active in the story: first revealing to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, and then revealing to Luke that this visit to the temple by the infant Jesus was the foreshadowing of his eventual return to Jerusalem to claim authority over the temple, and then to suffer and die. Luke rescues this story from being merely "cute" by placing it in the shadow of the cross.

This gift of sight has also been given to the church as a whole, who, in her collective wisdom, has seen the connection between this gospel narrative about a baby and his parents and, on one hand, Malachi’s Old Testament prophecy about the Lord visiting and purifying his temple, and, on the other hand, the image from the Epistle to the Hebrews of Jesus our great high priest, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, continually making intercession for us in the heavenly temple of which the Jerusalem temple was only a pale reflection. This is a grand vision, if we have the eyes to see it! 

Without these eyes of faith, we see our lives, not only as a random chain of cause-and-effect relationships, but as a chain that we are trapped in and God is absent from. Life is cruel and absurd, and then you die. But if we can allow God to set us free from our conditioning, if we can let Jesus teach us to see with the eyes of faith that Anna and Simeon saw with, then what a glorious vision awaits us! Life is no longer a roll of the dice, but is the medium through which God touches us and cares for us and showers his mercy upon us. 

A friend of mine once expressed this in an almost mathematical way: the difference between coincidence and providence is faith.  Let that sink in. 

Or, if you are more comfortable with addition than subtraction:  coincidence—the seemingly random events of our lives, plus faith—seeing with the eyes of      Simeon and Anna, equals providence—God's care for us through and in everyday events. When we make this equation a reality, sadness will turn to joy, despair will turn to hope, and we will be able to    sing along with Simeon:

            Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised. 
            for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
            whom you have prepared for all the world to see;
            a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.

Amen.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Saturday (St Brigid of Kildare)

Up and across the alley at 0730 for devotions and Morning Prayer; then down to McD's for a drive-thru breakfast. The remained of the morning until the 11am start time for the SKCM Mass was spent in liturgical "puttering," attending to myriad small details of preparation and rehearsal. Attendance was not what me might have hoped or expected, but the event itself was splendid. The Blackburn students who sang the Mass did a stellar job. Then there was the luncheon at 825, which was lovely. Following that, I kept a scheduled appointment with an aspiring postulant for holy orders, and his wife. It was a good and fruitful conversation. By that time, my introversion was pretty sorely taxed (which means I was in the mood for a nap), but I soldiered on and took a vigorous walk to get me past my daily step goal. Back in the office, then, I did the finish work on tomorrow's homily (Trinity, Mt Vernon), did some more liturgy prep work for the clergy retreat, and processed the hard-copy items in my physical inbox. Evening Prayer in the cathedral. Dinner at the nearby Bernie & Betty's.