Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Saturday

  • Hit the road (with Brenda) shortly after 8am for St Matthew's, Bloomington, site of the annual Diocesan ECW meeting. Saw a lot of people outside the context in which I associate them, which is pretty confusing to this newbie in the diocese, though I try not to let on! Celebrated Mass for the assembled group (around 30), leaving a bit after 3:00 and arriving back home around 4:30.
  • After a nap, a walk (my usual four miles in about an hour) and a little yardwork, Brenda and I went out for dinner.
  • Returned home to study and offer comments on the draft parish profile from Trinity, Lincoln and respond briefly to about a half dozen emails regarding diocesan business of one sort or another.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Friday

  • I'm not fanatical enough to have deprived myself of sleep in order to watch the royal wedding live, but I'm interested enough to have delayed the start of my work day a bit in order to watch the DVR'ed version. On the whole, it made me rather proud to be an Anglican today. Everything was stunningly beautiful, and the Christian vision of marriage was proclaimed winsomely and unashamedly.
  • Morning Prayer in the car, using the memorized short form.
  • More "important but not urgent" administrative tasks. Several, in fact.
  • Met with the Archdeacon and with Vice-Chancellor Kevin Babb (for nearly three hours!), talking about canonical reform in general and in particular the revision of our canons to implement the drastic changes to Title IV (clergy discipline) that take effect on July 1. Relieved that we now have a plan.
  • Lunch with Fr Denney at a mediocre Mexian restaurant. Still looking for haute cuisine with a Mexican accent in Springfield. Fiesta on Stevenson is evidently not it.
  • Phoned the office of the Bishop of Milwaukee to schedule an appointment with him next week when I'm in the area for a meeting at Nashotah House.
  • Phoned a priest of the diocese who is in particular need of pastoral care at this time.
  • Hand-wrote notes to the clergy of the diocese (and spouses) who celebrate birthdays, ordination anniversaries, and wedding anniversaries during the month of May. It doesn't much matter what I wrote, because my handwriting is not exactly legible anymore. But it's the thought that counts!
  • Wrote another ad clerum letter ("to the clergy"), my third. (It will go out by email on Monday.)
  • Greeted the Bishop of West Tennessee and his his wife, who were passing through Springfield en route back to Memphis from a meeting in Chicago. They are old friends of Dean Brodie and Linda, who were entertaining them briefly.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon over some outstanding issues in advance of his being out of the office next week.
  • Evening Prayer in the car once again. Glad to have the short forms, but I don't want to make a habit of this. Today just got away from me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter Thursday

  • Processed a bunch of emails, including some responses that had been long overdue. 
  • Took care of a several relatively trivial--but, again, long overdue--administrative chores. (When the same task has been in play for weeks, even if it's of less than critical importance, I eventually move it up in the queue just to get rid of it!)
  • Met with Fr Dick Swan, Canon for Mission in the Hale Deanery cluster, and extensively discussed the five small congregations that oversees. There are copious challenges and copious opportunities in that rural and spread-out part of the diocese. I am eager to be a good steward of our mission there. Then I took Dick to lunch.
  • Phoned the New Jersey office of Wippel's to complain about several shirts I recently ordered from them; the sleeves are too long. I was completely pleased by this particular customer service experience.
  • Worked a bit on my homily for Easter III (May 8), to be delivered at St James', McLeansboro.
  • Met with a representative of Illinois National Bank to sign new loan documents refinancing the debt on the physical plant at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Spent the rest of the afternoon drafting a customary for parish visitations. Hopefully this effort will pay dividends in making Sundays go more smoothly both for me and for the congregations I visit.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Chatted for a while with the Archdeacon over some deployment matters.
  • Drove out to Decatur to meet with the vestry of St John's. Sadly, we have had to negotiate a dissolution in their pastoral relationship with Fr Chuck Resichman, and Easter was his final Sunday there. Despite the best efforts and intentions of everyone involved, sometimes a search process still results in a mismatch between a priest's gifts and a parish's needs. I want to see both Fr Chuck and St John's thrive in their ministries, and it became apparent that this was not going to happen together. So my time with the vestry tonight was spent helping them unpack the effect of the announcement, disseminated by mail a week ago, among the parishioners, and disucssing what the near future holds. We will soon be announcing the appointment of a priest-in-charge for St John's.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine: newspaper, email, and task planning at home with tea and a muffin, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Left a message on the home answering machine of (transitional) Deacon Jeff Kozuszek (in charge at St Thomas', Salem), who is dealing with a flooded basement and a leaky roof in the wake of recent torrential rains. 
  • Monitored messages from Frs Dick Swan and Gene Tucker regarding the status of Redeemer, Cairo, which is at imminent risk of being flooded by the waters of the Ohio River as it flirts with overflowing its levee.
  • Dashed off a letter to the Bishop of Upper South Carolina asking him to continue to license Fr Daniel Karanja, one of our priests who serves as a military chaplain in that area.
  • Met with David Taylor, formerly a priest of the diocese who voluntarily renounced his orders in TEC in order to join the Orthodox Church in America. David now wishes to rescind his renunciation and return to ministry in the Episcopal Church. I shall assist him in doing so.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (St John's Chapel, Champaign).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Lengthy phone consultation regarding my ongoing work on a special project on behalf of the Nashotah House board.
  • Sundry incoming phone calls, as well as brief conversations with the Archdeacon and the Diocesan Administrator. We seem to be constantly running into one another's offices for one thing or another. (I'm not complaining; I love our working relationship.)
  • Worked further on the program for my "welcoming and seating" at the cathedral on May 15. This sort of thing (the planning, that is, not the event itself) is always more time-consuming than I imagine it will be. I had to make myself break it off at 6pm and go home.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Day

  • Preached at the early Mass and presided and preached at the principal celebration at the cathedral. Both liturgies went smoothly and were well-attended. I was particularly moved by the choir's rendition, as a "gospel walkback" anthem, of the Orthodox liturgical text: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."
  • I'm still embracing the learning curve of episcopal choreography; the moves with the mitre and crozier are not yet second nature to me. But all things in time, and I do feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I'm doing (and, I suppose, being what I'm being). 
  • After a nap, afternoon festivities at the home of some parishioners of St Paul's who have been incredibly hospitable to us since our arrival in Springfield. Spent some quality time playing Wii-golf with their two teenage kids. 
  • Now planning to take two consecutive whole days off. So plan on seeing something in this space again Wednesday evening. Christ is risen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Homily

(Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle, Springfield
Easter Vigil and Easter Morning)

Facebook makes some changes to its user interface, and the social networking world says, “Life as we know it will never be the same.” A couple of large countries unhook their own currencies from the U.S. dollar, and economists and pundits intone the same refrain, “Life as we know it will never be the same.”  The City of Springfield contemplates moving the passenger rail corridor from Third Street to Tenth Street, and what do we hear? “Life as we know it will never be the same.” As you can see, this figure of speech can have a wide range of meanings, from the trivial to the profound, from the planned to the accidental.

But what about “life as we know it”? Behind the hype and beyond the humor, what are the defining characteristics of human existence? Should we be afraid if life as we know it will never be the same, or should we be grateful if life as we know it will never be the same? There is certainly joy in human experience. There is beauty in human experience. There is laughter and there is love in human experience, as well as holiness and heroism and hope. At the same time, “life as we know it” is the venue for disease and disappointment, depression and despondency. Cancer and drunk driving and domestic violence exist in life as we know it. In life as we know it, children are abused by people they trust, terrorists blow themselves up inside crowded hotel lobbies, the clouds dry up and the crops fail and people go hungry, tornadoes plow through small towns, and the earth moves under the Pacific ocean, causing buildings to fall on people in Japan, and sending a tsunami that not only devastates the northeast coast of Japan, but the personal fortunes of commercial fishermen as far away as California and Oregon.

This is all what happens in life as we know it. So how do we balance the joy and the beauty and the love against the misery and ugliness and hatred? Can we assign some sort of relative point value? How many Mona Lisas or Beethoven symphonies or family reunions does it take to balance off … say, the Holocaust? I don’t really pretend to know, but it seems to me that one could make a case that Good and Evil play one another to a draw, that there is an essential parity between the two, that the positive things about being human will never be completely overshadowed by the negative. That may be true, but, I have to say, it’s cold comfort, because to say that Evil will never triumph over Good, that they have played each other to a stalemate, also means that Evil will always be with us, that disease and dysfunction will always be part of human experience, that suffering and death are permanent characteristics of the human condition.

It’s that last one, of course, that’s the clinker. Death is a trump card. Whatever beauty and joy there may be on the way, whatever love and kindness we may know en route, Death is waiting for us at the end of the journey—indeed, Death defines the end of the journey. This is surely the most enduring and most profound characteristic of life as we know it. It overshadows everything else.

And that’s why we have Easter. That’s why we’re here at this moment, doing what we’re doing. We are celebrating the ground, the basis, the essential foundation of all human hope, which is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead puts an end to “life as we know it.” Death is swallowed up in victory. Death no longer has the last word. Death no longer defines the end of the journey; it is transformed into the gateway of abundant and eternal life. Because of Easter, “life as we know it” will not only “never be the same,” it is no longer even recognizably itself. If we’re honest, we have to admit that’s a little bit of a scary thought. The landscape has changed; the old maps are no good anymore. Living on this side of the Resurrection, we face a future that is secure, but not entirely clear. We are citizens of a homeland we have never even seen. We get nervous without all the familiar landmarks, and wonder whether a misery that is known might be preferable to a bliss that is unknown.

The fact is, though, we can’t ever go back. Good and Evil have not played themselves to a stalemate; Evil has been defeated. Worse still—from the standpoint of Evil—God has not only defeated Evil, He has enslaved it. In my bolder moments, I am tempted to say that God has redeemed Evil. God has reordered suffering and death toward His own purpose of life and joy. We say in our prayers that the cross—on which the Son of God bore the full weight of human suffering—we say that the “way of the cross” is “none other than the way of life and peace.” We also say that God has transformed “an instrument of shameful death into “the means of life.” Do you see the implications here?—How far-reaching they are?  If the death of the only fully innocent human being who ever lived is transformed and redeemed by his resurrection, so are cancer and crime and wars and terrorist attacks. If the suffering of Good Friday is transformed and redeemed by the glory of Easter, so are poverty and divorce and racism and flat tires and bad hair days. Nothing escapes, nothing gets away. Everything is taken up into that victory.

The risen Christ, having put an end to life as we know it, now wants to introduce us to life as we have never known it, life as we have never imagined it. I can’t even describe it to you, because it’s “new every morning.” All I can say is that it’s a life of deep peace, even if there’s a great deal of turbulence on the surface. It’s a life grounded in unshakable love, even as it is lived in the midst of disappointment and betrayal. It is a life a profound wholeness, even as it is incarnate in the midst of extensive brokenness. It is a life of unquenchable hope in a sea of despair.

This life is ours. It is given to us in baptism. It is nourished over and over again in Holy Communion. It is imprinted on our souls through the concrete daily experiences of a life lived in faith. It is ample reason for unrestrained rejoicing. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia and Amen. 

Holy Saturday ... Easter Eve

  • Leisurely morning ... brisk long walk around Washington Park ... surfed the 'net reading seasonal miscallany, encountering some fine Holy Saturday poetry ... hosuehold chores.
  • Took care of some personal planning tasks relative to continuing to connect authentically with the clergy of the diocese.
  • Reviewed, with Brenda, the proofs from the portrait session following my consecration. Made some decisions and communicated them to the photographer. Hope to have 3-5 choices available soon to those who are interested.
  • Headed downtown to the cathedral about 6:30 in order to get ready for the 8pm Great Vigil of Easter.
  • The liturgy was performed in spirit and in truth. Deacon Marth Bradley sang the Exultet in truly exemplary fashion. Got to baptize little Camdyn Walsh Hammer, who is too young to give consent, but he certainly voiced no objections--no demons to come out of that kid when the water hit his head! And we had a fine trumpet player to add some extra joy to our singing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, in the somber nave, then some time praying in the chapel at the Altar of Repose.
  • Finished and refined my Easter sermon. 
  • Took a longish phone call wherein the subject was the special project I am working on in connection with my membership on the Nashotah House board. The issue is certainly getting more complex before we'll be able to do anything to make it simpler.
  • Looked at propers for Easter III, gearing up for preparing a sermon for my visit to St James, McLeansboro on May 8. After a bit of wrestling, I feel like I have a sense of direction with it.
  • Went home for a while to look at some troubling rain drainage patterns that Brenda had called my attention to. Ended up getting on a ladder and hand-clearing a couple of gutter downspouts of leaves and debris. Things are flowing a little better now. We've had lots of rain.
  • Took my sermon for Easter II (May 1 at St John's Chapel in Champaign) to the next level or preparation.
  • After a couple of mundane chores, I took the time to compose a Good Friday blog post.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral, then time with tonight's sanctuary party to lay the foundation for the Good Friday liturgy.
  • The liturgy itself covered all the bases, and covered them reasonably well: Word with Passion Gospel (and homily by the Dean), Solemn Collects, Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion from Reserved Sacrament.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Human beings are prisoners of time. Speaking theologically, I’m not sure whether to attribute that to God’s intention in creation, or to our fall into sin. But whichever it is, we cannot exist without reference to the past, the present, and the future. The mystery of time, this fundamental human experience, is something we can neither fully comprehend nor transcend. We don’t understand time, and we certainly can’t break free of it. Of course, this doesn’t keep us from fantasizing. Any new book that is well-written, any new movie that is well-made, and includes the theme of time-travel, is bound to be popular.

We also process the mystery of time in more subtle ways. Those of my generation, those who came of age between the mid-‘60s and the mid-‘70s, will remember a film called The Big Chill. It was about a group of thirty-somethings—which is what we were when the movie came out—who had all hung out with one another when they were in college getting back together for a sort of house party over several days. As I recall, it sent a whole bunch of American Baby Boomers into a nostalgic funk over the mystery of the passage of time. Now, of course, that same group is staring old age in the face, so we have even more to be mystified by. There is the past, there is the present, and there is the future, and we can’t break free from those categories.  

We can’t break free, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. The most basic attempt at transcending time is through the mind. With memory, we can revisit the past, and because our memories are not perfect, we can sometimes even clean up annoying details that didn’t come out quite right the first time. And with imagination, we can journey to the future—or, at least, a future—and check out the possibilities. But memories fade, and imaginations fail, so we resort to written records—diaries and journals—and audio recordings and photographs and home videos and the like. We also celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries of all sorts of events, both joyful and sorrowful. Perhaps the most serious attempt at transcending time is demonstrated by those Civil War re-enactments that take place on or near the sites of the original battlefields, and in places like Springfield, where the dominant character of the Civil War is a homegrown cottage industry. I’ve never been to one of these events, but I’ve talked to people who have firsthand knowledge of them, and let me tell you, this is not a game! These people have an ability to stay “in character” even when they’re off the battlefield. It’s actually kind of spooky.

But, try as we might, even when we go to extraordinary lengths to get all the period details of costume, weaponry, and behavior right, there remains a basic barrier that we simply cannot cross. We might be able to fool ourselves pretty convincingly, but we cannot actually transcend, we cannot break free of, the prison of time. We are captive to the moment, and irrevocably alienated from both the past and the future. And that’s why what we’re doing tonight, and tomorrow night, and the next night, is of such critical importance. In these strange activities known as the Paschal Triduum, we are transcending time; we are breaking free of the present and glimpsing Eternity. It might seem like we are merely trying to evoke mental images of certain historical events: the upper room tonight —with the washing of feet and the Last Supper—the Crucifixion tomorrow night, and the Resurrection on Saturday night. With some of what we do—actual feet getting actually wet tonight, kneeling at the foot of an actual cross tomorrow, keeping vigil in a dark and tomb-like silence on Saturday night—we may seem, I suppose, more akin to the Civil War re-enactors. But, in fact, we are doing much more than that. The power—indeed, the very nature—of liturgy and sacrament is to transcend time and space. Liturgy and sacrament set us free from our temporal prison, and enable us to benefit from what Jesus did in that Upper Room just as much as the twelve apostles who were actually gathered there with him. The people who have their feet washed tonight are not being served by Dan Martins or Bob Brodie, as much as it may appear so; they are being served by Jesus the Son of God. When we celebrate the Eucharistic Banquet, the host will not be Dan Martins, or even Daniel, Bishop of Springfield, as much as it may appear so; the host will be that same Jesus who took bread and wine and made them the vessels of his own life-giving self-offering.

We are not commemorating or re-enacting historical events; we are participating in them. And the mystery in which we are participating is none other than the redemption of the universe —a universe that, most assuredly, includes each one of us. In word and water and moistened feet, in solemn prayer over broken bread and poured out wine, we are acquiring first-hand experience of the ferocious love of God, a love that will never let go of us. We are allowing ourselves to be conformed to the shape of the cross—being made one with Christ in his sufferings, that we may be made like him in his resurrection. We are sharing in the righting of that which is wrong, the re-membering of that which is dis-membered, the making whole of that which is torn apart.

For me, one of the most moving moments in Mel Gibson’s film of a few years ago, The Passion of the Christ, was when Jesus, bearing his heavy cross along the Way of Sorrows, catches sight of his mother. Their eyes meet, and he seems to be momentarily revived by a burst of energy. He says to her, “Look, Mother, I make all things new!” My beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, a movie scene like that can be very powerful, and call to our minds the enormous scale of the work that our Lord accomplished in his Passion. But it’s only a movie, and we can get no closer to it than our seat is from the screen. It is only in the solemn liturgy of the Paschal Triduum that we can walk through that movie screen and into the action and take our place alongside Jesus and Mary, and, indeed, alongside Simon of Cyrene as he participates with Jesus in bearing the cross that represents nothing other than the sum total of the sin of the world and the evil of the universe. Look! Jesus is making all things new. And we are there with him. Amen.

Maundy Thursday

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Finished playing phone tag with the bishop of the diocese with which we co-sponsor a summer camping program. We had a helpful conversation.
  • Processed several emails.
  • Worked on refining my homily for tonight's liturgy.
  • Met for 90 minutes with the Archdeacon and Deacon Dr Tom Langford, chair of the Commission on Ministry, to review where we are and where we need to be going with respect to that body's work. Productive conversation.
  • Finished refining tonight's sermon, then swang by home to check on Brenda, who, alas, has the illness that I'm now recovering from. Fast food drive-through for lunch.
  • Dashed off a few words "From the Bishop" for the May issue of the Springfield Current.
  • Put some meat on the bones of my homily for Easter (both Vigil and Day, same sermon).
  • Worked a little more on the details for the May 15th event, then took care of a couple of mundane administrative chores.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Ran home again, stopping by the market to pick something up that Brenda had requested. Visited with her for a bit (too sick to come to church, the first Triduum liturgy she has missed in 33 years), then headed back downtown in time for a 6:30 pre-liturgical run-through.
  • This is now the seventh liturgical space in which I have participated in Triduum worship. Each place is idiosycratic in some ways, yet, despite the diversity, there is an essential unitive power that shines through. The Word got proclaimed, feet got washed, the Mass of the Lord's Supper was celebrated, Jesus got worshiped in his sacramental presence, and the altar got stripped. In other words, we did our job, our work for this night, and I was privileged to be part of it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

  • Uusual morning routine ... Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • No appointments today, so it was a good opportunity to just punch out items on the do-do list: 
  • Worked on sermons for Maundy Thursday, Easter, and Easter II. As one of those occasions is tomorrow night, it got the most attention. (I seem to settling into a three-week sermon incubation rhythm, so I need to yet get Easter III into the pipeline this week.)
  • Processed items that had accumulated on my desktop (my literal desktop, that is) over the last seven days (this is normally a Tuesday task, but I didn't get to it yesterday).
  • Wrote a letter to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Belleville seeking permission to use one of his churches for the ordination of Jeff Kozuszek to the priesthood on June 10.
  • Returned a phone call and scheduled an appointment with a lay person seeking counsel in discernment for ministry (not necessarily ordained).
  • Spoke by phone with another bishop regarding a clergy deployment issue.
  • Spoke by phone with Dave Lattan, the chair of the camp board, regarding some details about this coming summer's camp week.
  • Responded to emails from a candidate for Holy Orders and from the senior warden of one of our parishes.
  • Planned some of the details of the liturgy for my "welcoming and seating" in the cathedral on 15 May.
  • Evening Prayer in my office.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

  • Task planning and email processing at home. In the office earlier than usual, given the heavy agenda of the day.
  • Opened a package waiting on my office table: the white/gold cope, mitre, and stole just arrived from London and in time to be "blessed by use" at the cathedral's Easter Vigil. It's a lovely set.
  • Managed a brief moment of prayer in the cathedral, but the actual morning office got away from me, as soon there were people around, full of question, in preparation for the Liturgy of Collegiality (aka Chrism Mass). I took the time to make sure everything I would personally need for the service was identified and prepared.
  • Brief exchanges with Archdeacon Shawn Denney, Treasurer Jim Donkin, and Father George Pence.
  • Worked at my desk on a pressing pastoral/administrative (sometimes it's difficult to make a distinction between the two) matter right up until it was time to go get vested for the Mass.
  • The liturgy, on the whole, went smoothly. Father David Boase preached a fine homily (riffing on the traditional language of "making" deacons, "ordaining" priests, and "consecrating" bishops). It was both humbling and very gratifying to be the one holding the crozier in this particular transaction. I love this occasion because it is such a robust sign of an ecclesiology that sees within the life of a diocese all that is needed for the Church's life, witness, and mission.
  • Very pleasant lunch in the Great Hall with clergy, spouses, and some lay leaders of the diocese. Had brief informal confabs with a couple of clergy regarding the pastoral/administrative matters referenced above.
  • Retired immediately to the office conference room for a meeting of the Standing Committee. Their actual canonical business was slight, but I detained them for a goodly length of time seeking their counsel on sundry matters. Discussion was lively and, I would say, productive.
  • Met in my office with Randy Winn, a Standing Committee member, regarding a mutual interest and concern of ours.
  • Processed more emails and made a couple of short phone calls. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dinner with Brenda at Little Saigon Restaurant during a cataclysmic thunder and wind storm.
  • Still subject to periodic violent coughing jags and head congestion, and my voice is still compromised. This too shall pass.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon for Palm Sunday

(St Matthew's, Bloomington)

It feels almost presumptuous to say anything after reading St Matthew's Passion the way we’ve just heard it. Nonetheless, in order that the word of God not be obscure to anyone, in order that this too familiar but still overpowering story of one man's suffering and death be revealed clearly and compellingly as gospel, as good news, let me cut right to the chase. What's the point?!  What in heaven's name is gained by such a gruesome sequence of events as Jesus experienced?  And, if anything is to be gained, could it not have been gotten by some other means, some more elegant and less costly way? 

Neither of these questions is particularly easy to answer, but the first one is less difficult than the second. What is gained by Jesus’ suffering and death?  I can think of no more concise and poetic answer to this question than that found in the words of the prayer by which we will offer to God the bread and wine of this Eucharist:  Holy and gracious Father, in your infinite love you made us for yourself . . . Now, there's a thought—God, our “holy and gracious Father”, made us...for himself; what better reason for living could we ask for?  ...and when we had fallen into sin . . . Who among us has not fallen into sin?  ...and become subject to evil and death . . . Again, who among us is not subject to evil and death?, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and father of all. 

There's what's in it for us: we're reconciled to God. Somehow, the fact that Jesus“stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to [his Father's] will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world” means that the gulf which separates us from God as a result of human sin—our own sins, the sins of our ancestors, the sins of our friends and neighbors and enemies—the gulf of sin is bridged. Our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God is restored. There is purpose, meaning and direction for our lives. We are given a map by which to navigate the forbidding terrain of human experience in a way that leads not to despair, but to hope, not to alienation, but to unity, not to sadness, but to joy.
What is gained by Jesus’ suffering and death? 


But, we may still ask, could this not have been accomplished in some other way?  Quite honestly, I don't know if it could have been accomplished in some other way. God has not yet shared his mind with me on that question!  I only know that he chose to do it in the way he did, by sending his “only and eternal son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us.” 

To share our human nature, to live and die as one of us. We don't know whether God could have saved us in some other way. But these words from the liturgy give us a clue as to how the way God does save us works. It's really a pretty elementary principle, easily grasped by human intuition. But I'll illustrate it with science fiction!  One of the more popular of the seven Star Trek movies—the seven that include the grown up Captain Kirk; I’m not counting the most recent one—has the crew of the Enterprise—for a very good reason which I won't go into here—travelling back in time 300 years, to the late twentieth century.  As is usually the case, Captain Kirk meets a woman, and they're mutually attracted.  The inevitable moment comes for him to beam back up to his ship and return to his own century.  She wants to come with him, and he says, “No, you belong in your own time, jumping ahead 300 years would stress you out too much”, and all that. 

Naturally, since he's Captain Kirk, he gets his way, and calls up to his ship, “One to beam up”. But just at the moment when the transporter beam locks on to him, his lady friend throws herself around him, and the beam, unable to distinguish between them, transports them both up to the ship. Since they were, at that moment, bound up with each other, their experience was one and the same.  What happened to him also happened to her. 

This is the way God saves us in Jesus. He binds us up with him, so that his experience and ours become one and the same. What happens to him also happens to us. Christ died—when we die, we die with him. Christ rose from the dead, restored to new and glorious life—we will rise from the dead, restored to new and glorious life. That's the gospel in a nutshell. It's about that simple. 
But—stepping back to Captain Kirk and his lady friend for a moment—if Kirk had not been where he was when he was, that is, if he had not completely entered her time and her space, there would have been no transporter beam to carry her anywhere!  Before she could share his experience, he first had to share hers. It works the same way with Jesus and us. In order for us to be able to share his experience, he first had to share ours, to fully enter and inhabit our time and our space. 

In theology, we call this entry into our time and our space —our human experience—Incarnation. We usually associate the celebration of the incarnation with Christmas —”...and the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” But Jesus assuming our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in an important sense, only begins the incarnation. If Jesus had been snatched back up to the right hand of the Father without ever suffering death, his incarnation would have been of no effect.  It would have been to no avail for our salvation, because he would not have fully identified with our experience. We have to suffer and die. There's no getting around it. A Jesus who doesn't suffer and die with us cannot save us. We cannot share his experience unless he first shares ours, and to share human experience includes suffering and dying. 

So, there you have it. Straight, unadorned, without the sugar coating. This is gruesome stuff we celebrate this week. But it's our only hope. Amen.

Palm Sunday

  • On the mend healthwise, more or less. The run-over-by-a-truck feeling is gone, at any rate. Still dealing with a hacking cough and head congestion.
  • Delightful visit to St Matthew's, Bloomington this morning (where my symptoms gave the Proper Preface a Louis Armstrong-esque patina), followed by gracious hospitality extended by Fr Dave and Amy Halt not only to Brenda and me, but to vestry members and their families. Blessings abound in this new job of mine.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bona fide sick today. Not messing around. Spent the day in the family room recliner, wrapped in a blanket, medicated, and aggressively hydrated. Still some nasty stuff going on in the head and chest, but the run-over-by-a-truck feeling seemed to have abated late in the evening.

Friday, April 15, 2011

  • Still "under the weather." Chest and head cold. Email processing and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry pastoral and administrative issues.
  • Met with a potential aspirant to Holy Orders. Not only my first visit with him, but my first visit in that genre. I thought it went well.
  • Hit the road to Champaign. Talked at length on the phone with two clergy on some pressing issues that affect them. (For the record, I have a wonderful Bluetooth connection between my iPhone and my car's audio system, so I had two hands on the wheel at all times.)
  • Lunch with Fr Tim Hallett. He's retiring on Pentecost after 35 years at the Chapel of St John the Divine, so this was my opportunity to do a very informal exit interview as I prepare to colloaborate with the vestry in calling his successor. Nice tour of the University of Illinois campus and the chapel's physical plant. I'm excited about all the good things that can happen in campus ministry.
  • More phone conversation, this time with a key lay leader, on the way back to Springfield.
  • Stopped by the office long enough to check in briefly with the Archdeacon, process some items that had accumulated on my desk, and head home to ensconce myself in a recliner and try to get well.
  • Instead of watching a movie, we are transfixed by keeping up with the tornado warnings that are affecting our area.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

  • Began to feel a little "puny" (as they say in the south) last night, so the day got off to kind of a sluggish start.
  • Spent some 80 minutes on the phone (this was previously scheduled) with Bishop Bill Love (Albany), who is my "peer coach" for the first three years of my episcopate. 
  • Navigated--veritably to the point of nerve synapses being fried--the labyrinthine canons on ordination (Title III), trying to figure out the steps we need to take to get an Army chaplain who wants to be an Episcopal priest through the process as expeditiously as possible. Canons are intended to be clear and unambiguous. When trying to apply them to concrete situations, however, they are often vexingly obscure and complex. (Have I mentioned I'm very much a "forest" person and don't care much for "trees"?)
  • Accompanied Archdeacon Denney and Sue Spring, our Diocesan Administrator, to a delightful lunch at the Illini Country Club with Chancellor Rick Velde, at his invitation. Lovely.
  • Returned to the office still not feeling very well, but dug back into the Title III canons and came up with a roughed-out path for our Army chaplain. Asked the Archdeacon to put flesh on the bones in advance of next Tuesday's Standing Committee meeting. He excels at stuff like that!
  • Returned a phone call to my ELCA counterpart, Bishop Warren Freiheit. He has a rural congregation that has dwindled to the point where they are willing to consider partnering with our congregation in the same town (not much larger). I shall explore whether this is workable.
  • Hit the road around 3:30 for St George's, Belleville (an Illinois suburb of St Louis). Met first with the Rector and a committee of parishioners who are coordinating plans for the 2011 Annual Synod of the diocese in October, which St George's is hosting. We reached consensus on the broad strokes of pending decisions regarding times and places of various events.
  • Then, after a brief tour of the physical plant, Brenda and I headed into the parish hall for the last of their Lenten soup suppers, after which I offered the reflections I had prepared on Living Into our Messianic Hope. We were back on the road toward Springfield around 8:15. 
  • Still feel like I'm trying to fight something off. Getting sick is not welcome on my agenda.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on last night's visit to Lincoln.
  • Prepared some music (using the music publishing software Finale and converting it to a graphics file) for the cathedral staff for insertion into the Good Friday bulletin.
  • Worked on planning music for my formal "welcoming and seating" (formerly known as "enthronement") in St Paul's Cathedral on May 15.
  • Drove to Decatur to meet with the Rector of St John's over lunch and then with him and the Senior Warden for a while in the parish offices. 
  • To my dismay, I spent the rest of the afternoon, interspersed with a couple of incoming phone calls, working on the seating/enthronement service. It's not all that simple, actually. The essential outline is found in the Book of Occasional Services, but it assumes that the opening formalities will be followed by a celebration of the Eucharist. In this case, we're transitioning into Evensong instead ... but not quite. It's an adaptation of an adaptation of the evening office known as Great Paschal Vespers. It has the potential for great liturgical and musical richness, but presents a host of ceremonial and musical decisions to be made. So I now have the broad strokes (and some of the fine ones) in a document and have distributed it to some of the key players asking for their input. 
  • Evening Prayer in my office.
  • Grilled burgers, Cubs baseball, some financial chores, and a few pages of a novel in the evening.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

  • Task planning at home. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on sundry administrative and pastoral matters.
  • Took a phone call from Fr Swan regarding Hale Deanery matters.
  • Consulted with Treasurer Jim Donkin concerning the re-structuring of a loan at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Arranged for the licensing of Fr Ralph McMichael to serve as Interim Vicar (half-time) at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Processed the items that had accumulated on my desk since last Friday, and processed a load of emails.
  • Worked on my sermon for this Sunday (Palm Sunday) at St Matthew's, Bloomington. Communicated with Fr Halt regarding some of the details of the liturgy.
  • Walked (on a beautiful spring day) to an Italian eatery downtown for a meatball sandwich, then stopped to purchase some 99% cacao chocolate bars. They're a specialized taste. Not sweet in the least, but not bitter either. And very smooth. (Made by Lindt.)
  • Met with Kathy Moore, our diocesan coordinator for youth ministry about ... you guessed it ... youth ministry issues.
  • Processed more emails and digested some newly-arrived correspondence regarding a parish where the waters are troubled.
  • Worked on the Lenten series presentation I am scheduled to give at St George's, Belleville on Thursday night. Topic: Living Into Our Messianic Hope. (The whole series has been on the concept of messiah.)
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Drove to Lincoln (about 35 miles up I-55) to meet with the Vestry and Search Committee of Trinity Church. I got to know them a bit, connected with their process, laid out their options, and then left them to discuss amongst themselves. I look forward to helping them find the right match.
  • Got home around 9, got a bite to eat, watched a little TV (an episode of the new Showtime historical drama The Borgias) and then dashed of a blog post about Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and liturgy in general.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon for Lent V

John 11:1-44
Romans 6:16-23

(St Luke's, Springfield)
Let’s remind ourselves where we’ve been on the three Sundays leading up to today.

Three weeks ago, we were with Jesus and Nicodemus for their nighttime conversation about God’s great and the gift of new birth to eternal life.

Two weeks ago, we were with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well for their conversation about “living water,” which made us think as well of the Lord providing water from a rock in the time of Moses, and how the water that God provides quenches our deepest thirst.

Last week, we were with Jesus and the man who had been blind from birth. Jesus gave him the gift of sight, and this makes us think of how, in baptism, God “turns on the lights”, and lets us see the real world for the first time.

Now, if we consider these powerful signs all at once—new birth, living water, the gift of sight—if we look at these signs as a group, we notice that they kind of go together. Each one is more intense and more dramatic than the one before it. Each one goes a little deeper into the heart of human experience, human anxiety, human suffering. Each one gets a little closer to the heart of what ails us.

They lead quite naturally, then, to today’s gospel story, where a dead man comes back to life. Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, is a close personal friend of Jesus. They live in the south, while Jesus tends to hang out in the north. One day, word arrives in the north that Lazarus is really sick, and issn’t long for this world. By the time Jesus made the three-day journey on foot, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. But Jesus goes immediately to the tomb, asks for the entrance stone to be moved out of the way, says a prayer, and calls for Lazarus to get up and walk out of the tomb. Lazarus is only too happy to comply, and when he makes his appearance, it’s a sight to behold, because he’s still wrapped—“bound” would be more like it—Lazarus is bound in cloth from head to toe, so Jesus’ next words are these: “Unbind him, and let him go.” 

Jesus was speaking literally, of course, because he wanted Lazarus to be able to move and breathe. But, from where we stand, we have the luxury of hearing some symbolism in his words, which makes them tremendously powerful and relevant to our lives. How do we experience being “bound”? What is it that restricts our ability to move and breathe in the ways God intends for us?

This could be a very long list, but it would certainly include addiction—addiction to alcohol, addiction to nicotine, addiction to various other legal and illegal drugs, addiction to sex or pornography, and—yes—even addiction to work. Addiction binds us, and Jesus wants to unbind us and let us go.

The list could also include idolatry. Now, we’re way too sophisticated to think that statues made of clay or wood or metal are actually gods, but that doesn’t mean we don’t worship our share of false gods. An idol is anything that we worship—which is to say, anything that we assign to first place in our lives. Whatever we consider to be Priority #1, that’s an idol. Unless, of course, Priority #1 is the true and living God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anything else we put in first place is an idol, and it binds us. Jesus wants to unbind us and let us go.

The list of things that bind us would have to also include any kind of sin—casual sins and serious sins, trivial sins and gigantic sins. Who has not known the power of anger and envy to bind people? Who can deny the bondage created by lust and gluttony? Who has escaped the damage caused by slander and gossip? Sin of any kind binds us. It restricts our ability to move and breathe as real human beings. Jesus wants to unbind us and let us go.

The list would also include regret and remorse and shame—things that we have said or done in the past that we wish we hadn’t, and things we’ve not said or done in the past that we wish we had. In my line of work, I might see this a little more frequently than others, so trust me on this: People are all around us whose lives are utterly bound by regret and sorrow for past misdeeds. Jesus wants to unbind them and let them go.

The list would also have to include woundedness from the past—not from what we have ourselves said and done, but by what others have said and done to us. We find it ferociously difficult to let go of painful memories—memories of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; memories of mistreatment and betrayal by those whom we trusted. The walking wounded are here among us, and the effects of those wounds touch every area of our lives. We are constricted by them. Jesus wants to unbind us, and let us go.

And we dare not finish our list of things that bind us without mentioning fear in all of its forms—fear of sickness, fear of dying, fear of being poor. Fear shrinks the field on which we live our lives. It makes us smaller. Fear binds us. Jesus wants to unbind us, and let us go.

Now…if you’re paying exceptionally close attention, you may wonder why I mentioned material and financial anxiety after sickness and death. Isn’t death both the root and the sum of all our fears? Well…I would say so. Yet, financial anxiety, I believe, is somehow uniquely able to take us to the crux of the matter, the center of all this business about being bound. Within it lies the key to experiencing the liberating, “unbinding” ministry of Jesus. So I’m going to say just a word about money, about stewardship. At the heart of a spirituality of stewardship is the realization that I own nothing. Not only do I not own the money in my bank account or the clothes on my back. I don’t even own my time. I don’t even own my freedom. I belong to Christ. I am bought and paid for by Jesus Christ.

Well, at first, this might sound like exchanging one form of bondage for another. But one of the prayers we use on weekdays at Morning Prayer sheds light on just what I’m talking about. In this prayer, we say to God that “….to know you is eternal life, and to serve you is perfect freedom.”  In order to be free of all that binds us, we need to surrender to the service of Christ. In order to be unbound, we need to give ourselves over to the bondage of Christ’s love. Freedom from what binds us comes when we surrender ourselves to the perfect freedom of Christ’s service.

When we take this step—this step of surrendering ourselves to the perfect freedom of Christ’s service—we see laid out in front of us the path toward freedom from all that binds us—freedom from addiction, freedom from idolatry, freedom from regret and shame, freedom from woundedness, freedom from fear, and freedom from sin. Sometimes it’s a short path, and we are delivered through miraculous means. I’ve known of alcoholics who are simply set free from all cravings immediately after prayer and laying-on of hands. Most of the time, it takes cooperation and effort over a long while.  But the bottom line is that Jesus wants to set us free from anything that might prevent us from knowing his love fully and serving him freely. He is looking at each and every one of us who are gathered here in worship today, especially those who are about to be confirmed, and calling us out of the tomb, and saying to his other servants, “Unbind them, and let them go.” Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lent V

  • The day began in a relatively humane fashion, as my visitation was in town (St Luke's) and the liturgy was not until 10:30. Read the paper and prayed the morning ofice at home.
  • Brenda and I got to St Luke's in time for me to meet for a few minutes with the group of ten confirmands (mostly young teenagers). They seemed quite well-prepared, and excited about what was taking place. With only a couple of minor missteps, the service went very smoothly, and was a joyous occasion all around. It is beginning to dawn on me that I will be posing for A LOT of pictures in the coming years. 
  • I'm particularly excited about the ministry of St Luke's because it is so much a neighborhood parish, and is truly incarnate in its neighborhood in a way that relatively few congregations are. This is a missional model I suspect we will be seeking to emulate and replicate in lots of other places. 
  • Got home after being well-fed at St Luke's and dozed in and out during what turned out to be a losing effort by the Cubs in Milwaukee, though that sad outcome did not take shape until the last few minutes of the game. Then I worked with Brenda in the yard for a good while, cleaning up leaves from flower beds, and getting them properly packaged and out on the curb for pickup tomorrow.
  • Evening Prayer on the patio while the coals in the Big Green Egg were heating up.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

  • Morning Prayer and some time with the Journal-Register at home.
  • In the office by 9am to meet with Fr John Bettman. Because he is now retired and about to move to North Carolina, he tendered his resignation as diocesan spiritual director for Cursillo and diocesan coordinator of Education for Ministry. I'm sorry to see him go. Both positions will be hard to fill.
  • Celebrated and preached at the Mass for the Grand Ultreya of the diocesan Cursillo community. We commemorated the lesser feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor and Theologian. The opening line of the opening song was "We celebrate our life together." I don't think it was planned this way, but it could hardly have been more appropriate for the feast, given the title of one of Bonhoeffer's books.
  • Fr Bettman gave the Witness Talk, after which we broke into several group reunions, with the clergy gathering in my office. Serendipitously, I was able to enlist the help of Fr Tim Goodman, a master wood worker, to construct a small ledge on one of the walls of my office on which I would like to place some votive candles, underneath the crucifix. The Ultreya continued with lunch in the Great Hall of the catehdral, where I got to touch base with a number of people. I then attended the beginning minutes of the Cursillo Secretariat meeting, but had to excuse myself because of a prior commitment.
  • That prior commitment was a (video) Skype conversation with Fr Mark Winward, a priest of the diocese who is an active duty Navy chaplain currently attached to a Marine regiment stationed at Camp Pendleton that is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in August. He had hoped to attend my consecration, but pastoral duties intervened at the last minute, so we resorted to technology to help us get acquainted. Both Brenda and I got to meet both Fr Mark and his wife Casey, along with their two sons, Christian and Matthew. Mark's unit will be in an active and dangerous combat zone when he gets over there.
  • After two or three hours of decompression at home, Brenda and I accompanied Dean Brodie and Linda downtown to the opening of an art show that includes the works of one of their parishioners at the cathedral. The artwork was wonderful, but I was blown away by the several bonsai trees that one of the artists was displaying. Why have I never paid attention to bonsai before? It is stunning.
  • Spent what was left of the evening watching The Soloist. What a compelling story and a fine film.

Friday, April 8, 2011

  • Task organization and email processing at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded via email to several detailed questions from the cathedral staff regarding Triduum liturgies. 
  • Pondered, and consulted with the Archdeacon and others, over some delicate administrative issues related to our diocesan summer camping program for children and youth. This will certainly test whether I received any extra dollops of tact and wisdom when I was consecrated!
  • Took my ordination certificate (an impressive document, with two large purple ribbons and 21 red wax seals) in to be framed. Caught a meatball marinara at Subway on the run for lunch.
  • Accompanied the Archdeacon to a downtown religious supply store to look at crucifixes. I've been hunting a largish one (30', ideally) for one of the walls in my office. We came back with a potential candidate for a "tryout."
  • Back to the camp issue. Made a call to the (provisional) Bishop of Quincy (TEC) to discuss some points. Called Fr Swan for some more information. Called Bishop Buchanan again. 
  • Resgistered, arranged for payment, and made travel plans for attendance at the College for Bishops program for new bishops in North Carolina next month.
  • Spoke with two priests at some length regarding the person whose canonical exams I mentioned yesterday.
  • Lectio divina and Evening Prayer in the Cathderal.
  • Home in time for a brisk one-hour walk (of about four miles), grateful for the lengthening days.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

  • Task organization and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Spent yet more time trying to find the best way forward for the parish that is embroiled in rector-vestry conflict.
  • Reviewed and approved a request from a priest to solemnize the marriage of divorced person.
  • Researched the canonical requirements for rescinding the deposition of a priest who had voluntarily renounced his orders in the Episcopal Church, scheduled an appointment with said priest, and planned the actions necessary for making it all happen. It's fairly complicated.
  • Lunch with a local Unitarian Universalist minister (at his invitation) who is active in interfaith activities in Springfield. We ate at Incredibly Delicious, a sandwich and (gourmet) pastry joint in an historic mansion over on Seventh Street.
  • Spoke by phone with a former staff member of the aforementioned parish-in-conflict. Gained a great deal of insight as my view of the situation is coalescing and clarifying.
  • Wrote a substantive email to the head of our Department of Communication offering kudos for the new look and format of the Springfield Current, and providing some input on the (much needed) redesign of our diocesan website.
  • Responded to some detailed questions (via email) from the rector of the parish I am visiting Sunday after next.
  • Took a long and careful look at the canonical ordination exams of a current postulant for Holy Orders in the diocese, and wrote a couple of email messages to key players in the person's process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

  • Planned tasks and processed several emails at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Continued to process written materials about last night's meeting, and debriefed on the matter with the Archdeacon.
  • Planned the order of service for the annual Liturgy of Collegiality (aka Mass of Chrism), which will take place in the cathedral on Tuesday in Holy Week. (This is when the clergy renew their ordination vows and the Bishop consecrates oil used in healing and baptism.) Consulted with the Dean on some of the details.
  • Took a phone call from Bishop Ed Salmon, chair of the Nashotah trustees, regarding the special project I am working on.
  • Lunch with the Archdeacon at a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant. Tasty.
  • Spent more time than I wanted to looking at flight schedules to determine whether I can attend the consecration of the next bishop of Western New York (Buffalo). Finally came to the conclusion that it is not prudent, given my visitation obligation the next morning. Just can't completely trust air travel in small markets when there is no leeway for unanticipated events.
  • Met with Jim Hillestad, who handles property and liability insurance for the diocese. He's also no stranger to my office, as his father was my predecessor twice removed. This was just a meet-and-greet. No substantive discussion.
  • Worked on my sermon for this Sunday (St Luke's, Springfield).
  • Evening Prayer in my office.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

  • Task organization (a veritable mountain!) at home over tea and breakfast.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon over diverse matters, including my visit last Sunday to St Michael's, O'Fallon. Prepped with the Treasurer for the upcoming meeting of the diocesan trustees.
  • Met with the trustees and representatives of Bush O'Donnell, our asset mangament firm in St Louis.
  • Cleared desk of accumulated correspondence and other detritus.
  • Lunch at home, then voted in Iliinois for the first time.
  • Worked on a Nashotah House-related project.
  • Talked by phone with a potential interim priest-in-charge for St Michael's, O'Fallon. Then talked with the Bishop's Warden at St Michael's about that particular priest.
  • Met with the Dean and Verger of the cathedral to discuss the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum.
  • Drove to another city in the diocese for three and a half hours of meetings with the vestry of the parish there, in three groups of three. There is some tension in their relationship with their rector, and I have been asked to intervene. There is pretty much guaranteed heartbreak in this situation.
  • Arrived home at around 10:45. A long day.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sermon for Lent IV

(St Michael's, O'Fallon)                                                                      
John 9:1-38
I Samuel 16:1-13                                                                                                                                                           

In years past—though, thankfully, not so much lately—one of the “social outreach” ministries of the Martins household has been to serve as a home for pregnant, unwed cats. So we’ve seen lots of litters of kittens. And one of the more conspicuous characteristics of newborn kittens is that they don’t open their eyes for the first couple of weeks of their lives. They are born blind. They join together in a pathetic whining mass of fur constantly scrambling to find that special spot on the mama cat’s body from whence they receive nourishment and comfort.

Yeah, I know. They’re cute. 

But cats, of course, are not the only ones who are born blind. Our eyeballs and our optic nerves are, with a few exceptions, fully functional, but we are blind to those things that really matter. We are blind to that which is of ultimate consequence. We are blind to the meaning of life.

The disciples who ask Jesus the naive question about the cause of the man’s blindness—“Who sinned, this man or his parents?”—have a fuzzy vision of what Jesus’ ministry is about. The townspeople among whom the man grew up, who saw him every day, are suddenly not quite sure they recognize him. The Jewish authorities are so consumed by the details and technicalities of the law that they are blind to the presence of the law-giver himself in their midst. And the man’s own parents are so blinded by their fear of those same authorities that they fail to see the significance of what Jesus had done, not only for their son, but for them. They all saw what Jesus had done, but they were looking for the meaning of that event in all the wrong places. 

They’re not alone. 

Looking for meaning in all the wrong places is an activity that is alive and well in these early decades of the Third Millennium. Many in our society try to find meaning for their lives in drugs, or violence, or sex, or material acquisitiveness.  It’s relatively easy, and more than a little bit tempting, for us proper, law-abiding, church-going citizens to feel superior toward those poor souls. But it’s not only bad things that can blind us to the meaning of God’s movement in our lives. Good and wholesome things can accomplish the same task even better sometimes.  Devotion to work, for example, is a good thing, but it can blind us spiritually. The quest for good health is a good thing, but an obsession with the health of the body can blind us to disease in the soul.  Loyalty to family, community service, and civic responsibility are all good things, and they can fool us into thinking they are sources of ultimate meaning, reservoirs of deep spiritual satisfaction. They are not. And if we think they are, we are blind. Just as blind as a litter of kittens howling in a box on the floor of a bedroom closet. Just as blind as the man in John’s gospel.

But it is precisely in our identification with that man that we find our salvation. Jesus’ act of healing was far greater than the restoration of his physical eyesight. Before the end of this long story, the man’s spiritual sight had also been restored, and he recognized and acknowledged Jesus’ divinity and worshiped at his feet. Christ lit up his life in every way, and that light enabled the man to see the fullness of truth.

The good news on this mid-Lent Sunday is that that same light is also available to us. It has already been given to us. We already possess it, and when we use it, it is capable of making a startling difference in our lives. Our Old Testament reading today tells the story of the time the prophet Samuel was commanded to find and anoint the next king of Israel. He was led to the household of Jesse, who gathered together the seven oldest of his eight sons. Any and all of them seemed like likely candidates. But with his God-given sight, Samuel knew than none of them was the one God had chosen. He had to insist that Jesse call in from the field his youngest son, who wasn’t even yet fully grown. By the standards of ordinary human sight, he was the least qualified of all the candidates. But when Samuel saw David, his spiritual sight told him immediately that this was the one, and David was anointed king. Jesse and David’s brothers must have been stupefied. But they could not see what Samuel could see.

Many years ago, when I lived in Oregon, I went with a friend into a remote mountain area one day to hunt for mushrooms. Now if you put a mushroom in front of me, I’ll recognize it as a mushroom. But if you march me out into the woods, I may, with my normal eyesight, not see many of the mushrooms that are there to be seen. And if I do see one, I sure wouldn’t be able to tell you whether it’s the edible kind or the poisonous kind, let alone what variety it is and how it will behave when you cook it. But my friend not only saw many more mushrooms than I could see; he was able to immediately tell what sort each one was and assess its quality and potential usefulness. He had two things that enabled him to be such a successful mushroom hunter. He had knowledge and he had experience. Now, suppose that, before heading for the hills, my friend had given me a gift, a gift of a field guide to varieties of mushrooms growing in the Oregon coast range.  I then might also have claimed as much knowledge as he had. But merely having that gift, that resource of knowledge, would not have effectively opened my eyes to the wonderful world of mushrooms! Only by using it, by practicing, by acquiring a fund of experience, could I hope to equal my friend’s mushroom-hunting ability. It’s a simple equation: gift + experience = ability. 

Gift + experience = ability. 

Jesus daubed the blind man’s eyes with mud made from the dust of the ground and his own saliva. He then told the man to go wash in a particular pool. The church has always seen in this action a prefigurement of the sacrament of baptism, with its anointing with oil and dipping in water. If you have been baptized, you have the gift of spiritual sight! It’s in your possession.  One of the early euphemisms for baptism was “illumination”, and those who had been baptized were called the “enlightened ones.”  The church, by definition, is the community of the baptized, the community of the enlightened ones.

We have the gift of sight, but before we can use it effectively, we must build up that fund of experience. And it’s no great mystery how we get that experience. We gain it by being faithful in attendance at the Eucharist, Sunday by Sunday, holy day by holy day. We gain experience by saying our prayers, day in and day out, whether we’re particularly in the mood or not. We gain experience by studying the word of God and the teaching of his church. We gain experience by participating in the community of the church and opening our lives to one another. None of this is rocket science. It’s available to everyone here.

When we who are the enlightened ones begin to practice these fundamental spiritual disciplines, we begin to see things much differently. The gift of sight that we received in baptism, combined with the experience of practicing Christian spiritual discipline over time, enables us to see and focus our attention on that which is truly important. The man who had his sight restored learned that knowing and worshiping the divine son of God was the highest end to which he could employ his gift of sight.

You and I are in a position to profit from his example. We have the gift. We have the means of acquiring the necessary experience. Who here wants to get to know God better? Now you have the formula. Who here wants to become a more effective disciple of Jesus Christ? Now you know the formula. Who here wants to know God’s will for your life more clearly? Now you know the formula.  Who here wants to be a better steward of all the resources with which he or she has been blessed by God? Now you know the formula.

Open our eyes, Lord; we want to see Jesus.  Amen.

Lent IV

Wonderful visit with St Michael's, O'Fallon. The turnout was excellent in comparison with recent Sundays, energy was high, and God was worshipped in spirit and truth. Having worked with a deacon for as long as I have now, I had to awaken some habits that had grown dormant, but I seem to have remembered everything that needed to be remembered. For a congregation of its age, St Michael's has a superb physical plant, the envy of many churches, I'm sure. Then we had a quite productive meeting with the Bishop's Committee, with a lot more clarity now about the steps that need to be taken toward the end of securing permanent pastoral leadership for them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

  • Indulged myself a leisurely morning: read the paper, helped Brenda get ready for her trip to Chicago, began laundry, updated the software on my iPad, examined and processed yet another batch of photos from the consecration, took a brisk and long walk (about four miles in a little under and hour).
  • Finished refining sermon for tomorrow, and worked a bit on next week's as well. Went by the office to retrieve the tools of my new trade.
  • Drove down to O'Fallon and enjoyed the entertaining hospitality of Jack Moelmann (Mission Warden at St Michael's), who is a theater organ aficionado extraordinaire, and has a Rube Goldberg-like installation--pipes, electronics, and acoustic tuned percussion--taking up his entire basement. And he can really play. We were joined later by Bishop's Warden Ann Wilt and her husband Nels, who provided me with some very valuable background information on the history of St Michael's (our newest church plant and the largest mission congregation of the diocese) and what its current challenges are.

Friday, April 1, 2011

  • Morning Prayer and daily task organization at home.
  • Tried on new rochet and chimere that arrived during my absence.
  • Consulted with the Archdeacon on some personnel and deployment issues. Reviewed a list of items that the Diocesan Administrator had stored up for me to make comments and/or decisions.
  • Signed a form giving my consent for the Diocese of Haiti to elect a Suffragan Bishop.
  • Processed a pile of correspondence that was waiting on my desk. 
  • Read, pondered, and processed the resume of a potential aspirant to Holy Orders.
  • Spoke on the phone at some length with the past Senior Warden of a parish where some serious conflict is brewing.
  • Composed and sent an email to the members of a working group I am convening in connection with my membership on the Nashotah House board of trustees. Spoke on the phone with a Nashotah administrative staff member on the same subject.
  • Studied materials sent to me by the vestry of the parish I am set to visit this Sunday (St Michael's, O'Fallon).
  • Began to lay the groundwork for the liturgy (sometime in May, most likely) in which I will be formally welcomed into the cathedral and seated in the historic cathedra.
  • Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After dinner at home, worked on refining my sermon for this Sunday.
  • Oh ... and I fell, completely, for Google's April Fools gag. Fell really hard.