Sunday, May 31, 2020
Alton Parish--I Corinthians 12:4-13
Let’s take a trip back in time—way back. Beyond the founding of our country; beyond the Reformation and the Renaissance and Middle Ages; beyond the time of Christ and the Roman Empire; beyond the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia; beyond the Bronze Age and into the Stone Age, the time of the cave men. Fred and Wilma Flintstone are standing outside the entrance of their cave one stormy evening, grunting in hushed tones about their neighbor, Barney Rubble, whom everyone suspects squirreled away a double share of meat from the wooly mammoth the clan had barbecued the night before.
All of a sudden, a lightning bolt falls from the sky and zaps Barney. Now, what are Fred and Wilma and their fellow cave-dwellers probably going to think? They’re probably going to think that Barney has been tried and found guilty by a higher power. If they live in a northern latitude, they might call that higher power Thor, or Odin. If they inhabit a more southerly area, they might call it Zeus or Ra. They know nothing, of course, about sub-atomic particles and magnetic fields and the meteorological conditions that are likely to produce lightning. All they see is that a man who has behaved badly has gotten zapped from on high. They put two and two together and come up with stone age theology.
Stone Age theology is simple: If there’s no other explanation for something that happens, then God did it. The God of Stone Age theology is a “god of the gaps.” This god fills in the “gaps” between our experience and what we understand about our experience. Fred and Wilma Flinstone’s grandparents may have thought that women had babies purely at the whim of the gods. But Fred and Wilma have discerned a connection between the birth of Pebbles and something that happened between them nine months earlier, so they no longer see any divine presence in the process of reproduction. There’s no longer a “gap” that a “god” needs to fill. But lightning is another matter, as are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and solar eclipses. So Fred and Wilma are a long way from becoming atheists, even though they’ve figured out where babies really come from.
Humankind may have come a long way since the Stone Age, but Stone Age theology, I’m afraid, is still quite popular. The problem is, there are a lot fewer “gaps” to fill now than there were then. Scientific research is already storming the gates of the inner workings of the brain and human consciousness. It’s been nearly 60 years since the first Soviet cosmonaut got into outer space and presumptuously declared that he didn’t see any evidence of God’s presence or activity while he was out there. Just a few years after that, the American psychologist B.F. Skinner made a name for himself with the idea that human beings are just complicated bundles of electro-chemical reactions, that all human behavior can ultimately be explained physically, and that what we might call “soul” and “spirit” simply do not exist. If we understand God to be the “god of the gaps,” the force that explains the unexplainable, then God is being gradually squeezed out of a job, and we are being gradually squeezed into atheism. The more that science can explain, the less we need God for.
Today is Pentecost, the day on which we celebrate not just “spirit” in general, but God’s Holy Spirit, the one whose power is released in spectacular fashion upon the gathered church in Jersusalem fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection and ten days after his Ascension. That’s the way the gift of the Holy Spirit is recorded and interpreted by St Luke in the Book of Acts. But in St John’s account, the gift of the Holy Spirit is identified with an earlier event, on the very evening of Easter Day, when the risen Christ appears to the apostles and breathes on them—as routine and unspectacular an act as can be imagined (except during an epidemic, of course, when breathing on somebody can be an act of aggression!)—Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So we have a dramatic and loud bestowal of the Holy Spirit in Acts, and a quiet and gentle bestowal of the Holy Spirit in John. What are we to make of this contrast?
St Paul addresses this very question in his first letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. He looks at it not from the perspective of the original outpouring of the Holy Spirit—whether according to John’s version or Luke’s version—but but from the viewpoint of the particular gifts which that Holy Spirit bestows on particular believers. The operative theology here is that the sacrament of baptism conveys not only new birth and the forgiveness of sins, but one or more spiritual gifts as well—gifts that are meant to be exercised, St Paul tells us, not for personal gain, but for the general edification of the church and her ministry in the world.
Let me be more blunt, for the sake of clarity: Every Christian is a minister, and the ministry of every Christian flows from the spiritual gifts he or she was given in baptism. The list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 is not, I believe, meant to be be prescriptive and exhuastive, but, rather, descriptive and suggestive. But the ones he lists are these: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Some on this list—miracles and tongues, for instance—are obviously spectacular, and nobody would mistake them for ordinary human endowments. There is still a little bit of a “gap” here for a “god of the gaps” to sneak into and find gainful employment. But I’m sure that a research psychologist will sooner or later, if it hasn’t already happened, come up with a credible scientific explanation for the phenomenon of speaking in tongues and other forms of religious ecstasy.
Others on Paul’s list—wisdom, knowledge, faith, for example—seem more ordinary, more common to the rest of human experience. We don’t need any sort of god to explain them. We have a difficult time, in fact, identifying them as spiritual gifts at all. We are tempted to say, “I don’t have the spiritual gift of speed, I can just run fast.” “I don't have the spiritual gift of craftsmanship, I just know how to sew.” “I don’t have the spiritual gift of music, I just had a good piano teacher.” “I don’t have the spiritual gift of hospitality, I just like to cook and I’ve always been able to meet people well.” I could go on, but do you see my point? If we think of God only when we’re experiencing something spectacular or miraculous, we will, in fact, become functional atheists, because we will fail to see God present and active in the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane, the routine. And this blindness, this failure to see through the eyes of faith, in turn, leads to discouragement, despair, spiritual malaise, loss of faith.
I’ve got good news for you, though! There’s no need to be trapped in spiritual discouragement, because God is present and active in the ordinary and mundane every bit as much as he is in the spectacular and the miraculous. As far as I am concerned, the scientists can close all the gaps they want to, because the God I worship doesn’t need gaps in which to reveal himself, he doesn’t need extraordinary occurrences in which to make himself known. He can make himself known in those ways, but he doesn’t need to. Even those abilities and talents that might appear quite natural and ordinary can be understood and appreciated as divine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
If you are baptized, you are gifted. That gift may be lying dormant because of your lack of faith, or lack of instruction in Christian discipleship, or you may be exercising spiritual gifts without even knowing it. But the critical reality here is that every Christian possesses and is meant to exercise spiritual gifts.
St Paul takes great pains to point out that spiritual gifts are not to be exercised merely for the self aggrandizement of the one who possesses them. They are, rather, to be employed building up the body of Christ for its mission in the world. Spiritual gifts will never be recognized as such by the world, because they are only revealed and discerned within the context of the Christian community and Christian discipleship. When a soldier is fighting in the jungle, he wears green camoflage to help him blend into the scenery and not be recognized easily by the enemy. But when he returns to the base, and the background is made up of concrete and asphalt and brick, the soldier can be easily spotted and recognized. In the world, spiritual gifts are camoflaged. Wisdom and knowledge look competely natural. Tongues and prophecy look completely crazy. None are recognized as spiritual gifts. Only in the context of “homebase,” the community of believers, is the camoflage renedered ineffective and the spiritual gifts seen for what they are.
This is why it’s critical to understand and live out the baptismal promise, taken from Acts 2:42, to “be faithful to the apostles’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” It is only in that context that we can discern and develop our spiritual gifts. And when we do so—that is, when the church operates the way God intends for the church to operate—we can truly be effective in the pursuit of our mission. The great metaphor than God reveals to us through St Paul is that of the church as a body—the body of Christ, to be specific. A well-functioning, healthy body is one coordinated system made up of many coordinated systems and sub-systems.
When each system does its job, the whole body thrives. When one sub-system malfunctions, all the others suffer. The failure of Christians to be aware of, recognize, and develop their spiritual gifts within the structure and discipline of the church, is a major contributing factor, in my judgment, to our failure to prosecute our mission as vigorously and effectively as we know God wants us to. May God forgive us. It is a failure in faith and a failure in love.
But this Pentecost celebration offers us an opportunity to repent, to change our ways, to head a new direction. That god of the gaps is a mere idol. Put it away. Embrace the God who is already waiting on the top of the mountain, along with all his faithful people, when the scientist and the philosopher finally get there. Claim your gifts, and respond with your fellow Christians to the spiritual hunger of all people, and bring all to unity with God in Christ. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Friday, May 29, 2020
- Substantive phone conversation with a colleague bishop over what I guess might be termed a "human resources" matter.
- Deep dive into Matthew 10:40-42, consulting various commentaries, in preparation for preaching, in an as yet undetermined venue or medium, on the Sunday of Proper 8, June 28.
Less big stuff:
- Routine phone conversation with Canon-to-the-Ordinary Mark Evans.
- Phone conversation with a priest of the diocese.
- Various and sundry email exchanges on a range of topics, some requiring quite careful attention.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
- Met (first by Zoom, then by phone after our connection crashed) with one of our new postulants to discuss the shape of his theological formation.
- Engaged and completed two significant Communion Partners projects.
- Attended a video meeting of Communion Partner bishops.
- Dealt by email and text with a handful of ongoing pastoral-administrative issues.
- Attended to a routine end-of-month personal management chore.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
- Attended the regular Wednesday (video) one-hour gathering of Province V bishops.
- Attended a special "Fireside Chat" of the whole House of Bishops with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
- Prepped, recorded, edited, uploaded, and shared my regular weekly word of pastoral greeting to the diocese.
- Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Proper 9 (July 5), when I hope to preside and preach at St John's, Decatur. Made notes.
- Responded to a generous handful of emails requiring pastoral or administrative responses.
- Read the penultimate chapter in the book the The Living Church has asked me to review.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
- Dealt with an array of relatively small administrative matters by email and phone.
- Rehabbed an old homily for Trinity Sunday toward use at Trinity, Mattoon on their feast of title.
- Hosted a Zoom meeting of a Communion Partners subcommittee on staffing and fundraising.
- Analyzed what offices need to be filled at the next synod (probably virtual): some by my appointment, some by election. Created a spreadsheet to be used in consultation with Canon Evans.
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Friday, May 22, 2020
Thursday, May 21, 2020
- Reached out by email to leaders of some of the parishes that didn't get visited in March, April, or May because of the virus quarantine, inquiring about possible summertime visitations, under Phase 3 restrictions.
- Celebrated the Eucharist for Ascension, with Brenda.
- Attended to a small administrative chore in connection to the diocese's PPP loan application.
- Took a first pass at the readings for Proper 8 (June 28), when I hope to actually preach somewhere in person, though the venue remains indeterminate.
- Worked a good bit around, about, and for some who are in the ordination process, making inquiries, clearing paths, clarifying ambiguities, etc.
- Worked another good bit trying to reconnect with Eucharistic Communities that are lacking settled clergy leadership, and are therefore suffering inordinately from the quarantine.
- Took a long and hard walk--for the sake of health in body, mind, and soul.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
- Took part in the regular weekly video conference of the Province V bishops, followed by a phone conversation with one of them.
- Set up, recorded, edited, and uploaded my regular midweek greeting to the diocese.
- Communicated by email with two new postulants and one new candidate in the ordination process.
- Got established with a local dentist: Thorough exam, cleaning, and treatment plan for an "issue" that was discovered.
- Routine processing of emails as they arrived.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Saturday, May 16, 2020
Friday, May 15, 2020
- Spent most of the morning creating a sermon draft for Easter VII from my developed notes. This is homily I will not preach at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
- At 11:00, chaired the regular May meeting of the Diocesan Council, via Zoom. There were minor glitches, but it certainly could have been much worse, technologically. It was the largest Zoom meeting I've ever participated in, much less hosted. We did all the usual business (finances, mostly), discussed the draft reopening protocols that Canon Evans and I have been working on (as a result of which some modifications have been made), and I dropped a bit of a bomb by announcing the suspension of my plan to retire in thirteen months and rescinded my call for the election of my successor--all until such time as the work of discernment and election can be carried out in an environment not compromised by a public health emergency.
- The meeting adjourned at 12:15, after which there was a minor "flurry" of texts and emails.
- My daughter-in-law drove me to the Mazda dealer where I left the YFNBmobile yesterday for both routine scheduled maintenance and the replacement of the right sideview mirror, a casualty of the size of urban garages. Stopped at McD's drive-through on the way back for a very late lunch.
- Dealt with a handful of small administrative matters by email.
- Read a chapter in the book I'm reviewing for The Living Church.
- Spent a "holy hour" (well, not *quite* an hour, but trending thereto) in contemplative prayer in our domestic oratory.
- Made the tweaks in the reopening document that were suggested by members of Council.
- Evening Prayer with Brenda.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
- Took the YFNBmobile to a local Mazda dealer for some routine maintenance--and the repair of a sideview mirror that got into an altercation with my garage. The maintenance was longer overdue, so it just needed to get done. I'm not doing any significant driving these days--occasional forays to fast food drive-throughs, mostly--but it's unclear when I'll be able to get to Springfield on a weekday to get the work done there.
- Attended briefly to some Communion Partners business.
- Corresponded with the head of the diocesan Cursillo secretariat. Obviously, the June weekend won't take place, and it's difficult to imagine even the alternative September dates being feasible, given the restrictions that will no doubt still be in place then.
- Attended to a pastoral issue regarding one of our clergy.
- Got to work refining, editing, and formatting my homily for this Sunday, which won't get delivered at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
- Worked on still more refinements to the reopening document, which I plan to introduce to the Diocesan Council tomorrow, as well as preparing some other materials for that meeting.
- Lunched more than an hour on the late side on some brisket tacos that I had delivered via GrubHub. We were out of leftovers, and our favorite Chinese carryout place nearby has bitten the dust for the time being, at least, as have a couple of other walkable fast food options. That's how bleak it is.
- Beginning already in mid-afternoon, I set up, recorded, edited, and uploaded both the homily that I had refined in the morning, as well as a word of pastoral greeting to the folks at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
- Took care of a couple of small administrative matters.
- Evening Prayer alone, as Brenda was upstairs visiting with Hattie and her Aunt Sarah.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
- Attended the weekly Zoom meeting of the Province V bishops.
- Substantive phone conversation with a colleague bishop following that meeting.
- Worked with Canon Evans to further refine the reopening protocols we've been working on. Made three separate sets of revisions. Sent the draft off to my epidemiologist daughter for her comments. She eventually gave a thumbs up, with some minor suggested tweaks. I incorporated those suggestions into yet another revision, then sent the document off to the members of Diocesan Council, among whom it will be a matter of discussion at Friday's meeting.
- Prepared, recorded, edited, and uploaded my now customary midweek video greeting to the diocese, in which I reflect on the anomaly of being a bishop who does not live full-time in the diocese he serves.
- Read a chapter in the book I'm set to review.
- Did a small bit of Communion Partners business.
- Did my Bowflex workout and took an aggressive late-afternoon walk.
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Friday, May 8, 2020
- Attended the regular semi-annual meeting of the diocesan trustees via Zoom. Relative to the recent performance of financial markets overall, we're in pretty good shape. Our investment managers are doing a good job.
- Edited, refined, formatted, recorded, edited, uploaded, and shared my homily for Easter V, which I will not be delivering at Redeemer, Cairo.
- Recorded, edited, uploaded, and shared a word of pastoral greeting to the people of Redeemer.
- Spoke by phone with one of our clergy on an emerging issue.
- Responded substantively by email to another priest of the diocese.
- Friday devotion: Lectio divina on the Old Testament reading in tomorrow's daily office lectionary.
- Studied the governor's phased plan for reopening the economy in Illinois and made several notes toward the project I'm working on with Canon Evans to formulate diocesan protocols for resuming public worship.
- Read a chapter in the book I've promised to review for The Living Church.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
- Usual early-AM weekday routine.
- Quickly processed some late-arriving emails. Scanned news sources for useful information in making reopening decisions. Downloaded the latest CDC guidelines.
- Got to work creating a rough draft sermon text from my developed outline for Easter VI (not at St Andrew's, Edwardsville). This task consumed the remainder of the morning.
- Lunched on leftovers.
- Moved the ball down the field a few yards with my seminarian financial aid planning project.
- Reviewed and commented on a draft Conflict of Interest policy for the Living Church Foundation.
- Performed my every-other-day brief Bowflex workout.
- Hosted the third-day-in-a-row meeting of diocesan clergy, this time from the Northern and Northeastern deaneries. On the whole, I am amazed at the hard and dedicated work our fine priests and deacons of the diocese are doing under very bizarre invent-the-wheel conditions.
- Took an aggressive 7 5-minute walk on a sunny but too-brisk May afternoon. I long for the arrival of summer.
- Evening Prayer with Brenda.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
- Conferred with the Bishop of Tabora by email and affirmed what we both knew was the decision that circumstances have forced on us: Their triennial synod is indefinitely delayed, and my visit to the diocese to attend that synod is also indefinitely delayed.
- Addressed some Living Church Foundation business.
- Attended the weekly hour-long video conference meeting of the bishops of Province V dioceses.
- Set up for, recorded, edited, and uploaded my weekly pastoral greeting to the diocese.
- Lunched on leftovers.
- Processed a handful of late-arriving emails.
- Led a second of three hour-long Zoom meeting of diocesan clergy--this one with those in the Darrow and Northwestern deaneries.
- Processed some post-meeting emails from a couple of the attendees.
- Took a modest walk through the neighborhood with Brenda.
- Attended to a task that will help me develop a plan for financial aid to our seminarians for the next academic year.
- Evening Prayer in our domestic oratory.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
- Usual early AM routine.
- Created a meeting on Zoom for Friday morning, and sent the link to the trustees of the diocese (and our investment advisor).
- Attended to a significant bit of Communion Partners business, creating future scheduled actions.
- Got to work building out my homiletical message statement for Easter VII into a developed outline.
- Took a break from this to lunch on leftovers.
- Continued and completed the sermon task I had begun.
- Hosted a one-hour Zoom meeting of clergy from the Hale and Eastern deaneries.
- Took a long and aggressive walk.
- Processed some emails (some in response to the Zoom meeting), surveyed the COVID-19 landscape (the most recent developments are pretty dreadful and discouraging) since I'm fielding more and more questions about whether and how to re-engage public worship.
- Evening Prayer with Brenda.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
Friday, May 1, 2020
- Took part in a two-hour Zoom meeting with some other bishops: some American, some Church of England, some African.
- Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday.
- Prepped, recorded, edited, uploaded, and shared for posting the homily that I had completed in the morning.
- Prepped, recorded, edited, uploaded, and shared (for further sharing) a word of pastoral greeting to the people of Emmanuel, Champaign, where I was scheduled to visit this weekend.
- Conferred by phone with Canon Evans on a range of issues. Took note of the change in the Governor's executive order classifying church operations as "essential" and fielding phone calls and emails from clergy of the diocese inquiring as to how this might change things for us. I suspect it will, but won't be making any policy decisions for about another week.
- Took an aggressive walk with Brenda. Then we prayed the evening office together.
- Worked out on my Bowflex.
- Read a chapter of the book I have agreed to review for The Living Church.
- Prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary.