- Usual Thursday early morning workout at home--then breakfast and daily task planning.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Morning spent working on my presentations at the Diocese of Albany priests retreat in April.
- Lunch at home (leftovers).
- First part of the afternoon--Nashotah House-related business. Gearing up for the May meeting of the board of trustees.
- Second part of the afternoon--exegesis and commentary-consulting in preparation to preach on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 12) at Christ the King, Normal. (Again, getting an early start because my travel calendar has me essentially out of action for a lot of Marc and May, and virtually all of April.)
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
- Woke up to about half and inch of snow on the driveway, with more coming down. Took the time to shovel it off before getting dressed.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Wrestled with the gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter--already in incubation for a couple of weeks--and teased what I hope and believe is the one think needful as I prepare to preach the word of God at St Andrew's, Edwardsville on 8 April.
- Made air travel plans to attend the meeting of the Forward Movement board in April.
- Lunch at home--leftovers.
- Finished developing and fleshing out a working outline for the last of the four addresses I will deliver next month at the ECW retreat.
- Route hard-copy processing and scanning.
- Departed for Bloomington at 4:15.
- Gave the second of five Lenten teaching series presentation at St Matthew's.
- Home around 8:45.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
- Processed a batch of emails while still at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Briefly discussed a couple of administrative and pastoral matters with the Archdeacon.
- Spent the rest of the morning developing and refining tomorrow nights Lenten teaching series presentation in Bloomington (weather permitting).
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Via phone and email, attended to a somewhat delicate pastoral and administrative situation in one of our parishes.
- Refined and printed a working copy of my homily for this Sunday (at St Bartholomew's, Granite City).
- Handled some more emails.
- At 4pm, with snow falling rapidly, I headed home.
- Wrote out personal notes of greeting to clergy and spouses with birthdays and anniversaries in March.
- Via email, handled a bit of dangling administrivia.
- Evening Prayer in my study at home.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
St Mark's, West Frankfort--Luke 13:31-35
OK, it’s time for some honesty. Imagine yourself at the beginning of day in which you know you have a number of tasks that need to be accomplished. In my case, it could be either a day in the diocesan office, or a day off—it doesn’t really matter; you know what your own situation is. Let’s assume that some of the items on your list are things that you really do not want to do; they are unpleasant or messy or frightening, or something. Some are emotionally neutral, and others might actually be fun. Some of the tasks might require only a minute or two of your time, others an hour or two. Let’s also assume that there is no one breathing down your neck—a boss or a spouse, for example—dictating your priorities. Now . . . what are you going to do first? What are you going to squeeze into the middle? And what are you going to save for last?
There are some among us, I’m sure, who, as a result of experience and discipline, would figure out which tasks are the most demanding and/or unpleasant, and do them first. I would suspect that such persons would be in the minority. Most of us tend to attack the easy stuff first—the “no brainer” decisions, the three or four minute chores, the undemanding conversations, the enjoyable projects. On the hard stuff, our inclination is to procrastinate and delay and attempt to evade.
But the hard things don’t usually just disappear, do they? In fact, when we procrastinate, we usually just end up making things worse on ourselves. The consequence of procrastinating on a difficult task is that the difficulty is compounded—what is already hard . . . gets harder. Every time I’m in my backyard during daylight hours, I can immediately see peeling paint on the east side of my house. Whenever the wind blows hard, we find flecks of paint in the lawn. I really do not want to face the trouble and expense involved with getting my house painted, but I know that if I don’t take care of it during the coming dry season, the damage will only become worse, and I will face even more trouble and expense.
In reading the four gospels, one of the conclusions we can probably come to is that Jesus was not a procrastinator. Two weeks ago, we heard St Luke’s account of our Lord’s glorious transfiguration on the mountaintop. Luke goes on to tell us, very soon after that account, that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, of course, would be the site of his passion and death. There is some evidence that Jesus—by this time in his ministry, at any rate—was well aware of that fact. So we might ordinarily expect him to put “getting to Jerusalem” pretty near the bottom of his “to do” list. If there was anything else that was at all worth doing, it would be placed ahead of “getting to Jerusalem.”
But Jesus didn’t do that. He “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. He knew that Jerusalem would be the location of both the conclusion and the fulfillment of his earthly mission. When he was on the mount of the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, this was the very topic of his conversation with them. Jesus did not attempt to evade his destiny; he embraced it. While he was en route through the towns and villages of Galilee and Judaea, Luke tells us, some Pharisees tried to deter him. Now, this is a remarkable scene, because the Pharisees are almost exclusively painted in the gospels as enemies of Jesus, but here they’re actually trying to do him a favor. “Get away from here,” they said, “for Herod wants to kill you.” We certainly can’t accuse them of being overly subtle, can we? Their point was abundantly clear.
Yet Jesus takes the opportunity only to reaffirm his resolve and his commitment to the task at hand—the task of bleeding and dying for the sins of the world. “Go tell that fox,” he says, referring to King Herod, “‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” In effect, Jesus is saying to Herod,
“You can’t kill me now; my date with death is in Jerusalem. That’s where it’s all going to come together, and neither you nor anybody else can do me any harm until I get there.” Jesus makes about as clear a statement as we could ask for here about what he knew his destiny to be.
But if we dig beneath the surface of this account, we find an implication that affects us as well, an implication concerning our destiny as followers of Jesus. By this stage of his journey, Jesus was virtually never alone. He had a retinue wherever he went, and there were generally three layers to this band of followers. The inner core, of course, was the twelve men whom we now know as the “apostles.” Beyond them was a larger group generically referred to as “disciples.” And then there was the largest category of hangers-on, the “crowd” or the “multitude.” All these people, with varying degrees of conviction and loyalty, accompanied Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.
You and I are invited to place ourselves in their company, to travel along with Jesus as he heads inexorably and faithfully toward his destiny, as he pursues the one item on his task list that is intimidating and frightening in the extreme. But Jesus isn’t inviting us to travel to Jerusalem with him as tourists. He’s inviting us to share his destiny—a destiny that includes suffering and death, but a destiny that also includes victory and glory. We do this—that is, walk to Jerusalem along with Jesus—in many ways. But broadly speaking, there are three:
First, we walk with Jesus spiritually. Within the privacy of our own interior life, our task is to be vulnerable, to be willing, to be open—open to crashing through what we feel like must surely be the bottom, only to discover that there are yet more depths of suffering we have not yet plumbed. But the promise we hold onto is that, by this means, we will eventually find ourselves on the roof. I know, in my own heart, when I desire a particular outcome or resolution to a situation, I often try to mentally “prepare for the worst,” to steel myself for the disappointing news, so if it comes, it won’t hurt so much, and if it doesn’t, then so much the better. But I have come to understand that this very self-protective behavior is evidence that I am holding back from God. I’m trying to grow an emotional shell, rather than being truly vulnerable and open to sharing the suffering of Christ. So I try, now, to be accessible to the pain of disappointment, to embrace it when it comes as the very cross I am called upon to bear in that moment.
Second, we walk to Jerusalem with Jesus liturgically. This is precisely what Lent is about—preparing to be with Jesus in Jerusalem when we celebrate the Paschal Triduum during Holy Week. We do this by means of our personal and corporate Lenten discipline; through prayer, fasting, self-denial, reading and meditating on scripture; Mass on Sundays, whatever midweek Lenten program we might participate in, all so that, when we sing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” on Good Friday—either literally or figuratively—we can answer without hesitation, “Yes, I was there.” (Now . . . don’t tell anyone, but . . .this is also how we get to be “there” with the women at the empty tomb on Easter morning.)
Finally, we walk to Jerusalem with Jesus eschatologically. (That’s a high-class theological term for the realm that exists outside of time and space as we know it.) We’re all going to die. We each have our own “Jerusalem” that we’re walking toward steadily, and the inescapable fact is that every one of us is a day closer to it today than we were yesterday. The only question is, Are we going to walk this journey alone, or are we going to walk it with Jesus? He would gather us to him as a hen gathers her chicks, but we’ve got to be willing. If we make our journey his, and his journey ours, we will be among those who on the day of redemption cry, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Saturday, February 23, 2013
I spent some time today with various bits of administrivia, working from home, via phone and email. Got my usual Saturday weight & treadmill workout in. Tried to be a good Facebook citizen and share a couple of important articles. Left with Brenda around 6pm for Mt Vernon, where we are ready to bed down ahead of tomorrow's visit to St Mark's, West Frankfort.
Friday, February 22, 2013
- Awake and out of bed at 5:50, anxious about the decision I had to make regarding the scheduled Diocesan Council meeting. After seeing some more "regrets" emails, and being informed by IDOT road condition hotline that both I-55 and I-72 had significant ice and snow coverage, I pulled the plug. Though it may not have been inordinately unsafe (temperatures were above freezing), none of our business was so urgent as to justify subjecting people to that sort of stress.
- So I sent out the email notification about 6:15, then camped out in my recliner to begin processing my inbox. Around 7:30, after breakfast, I geared up and started shoveling off the driveway, bearing in mind that, while not necessarily impassible for the YFNBmobile, by the time it thaws to slush and refreezes tonight, it would be a mess tomorrow, I stayed the course, and got it completely cleared. After a shower, I was dressed and out the door around 9:45.
- Met with a priest who was in the office because I had an incorrect email address for him so he didn't get the message about Council. Fortunately, he hadn't driven very far, and we did have some fairly important stuff to discuss anyway, so it was serendipitous.
- Took a phone call from another priest over a pastoral concern.
- Took care of some business pertaining to my Title IV Respondent status.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon over an administrative issue in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
- Hooked up the video camera to my laptop to begin downloading the file from Wednesday evening's Lenten series talk in Bloomington. It takes a while, so I headed out to McDonald's and then home to consume my McNuggets.
- Began the process of importing the now-downloaded video file into iMovie. The process required the better part of three hours. Fortunately, I was able to just let it run in the background.
- Did the rough development of next week's Lenten series presentation at St Matthew's. This is fun, but giving birth to new material is time-consuming.
- Made an initial homiletical pass over the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Why so far in advance, you ask? First, because I don't have anything from a prior year that is appropriate to rework for the occasion, and, second, because much of the time between now and then (like the whole month of April, for starters) is already heavily-scheduled with travel.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- More video processing (this time uploading the iMovie file to YouTube, where I hope to make it available to Carl Slaughter for editing) in the evening.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
- No heat in my office (due to furnace replacement) in the AM + snow and ice in the PM = a day working from home. With a little planning, and a reliable internet connection, there's really no lost productivity.
- Morning Prayer in the family room.
- Fleshed out, refined and polished my working notes for the third of four addresses I will deliver at the ECW retreat next month.
- Replied to a couple of email queries that have been in the chute for a couple of days.
- Weight & treadmill workout, shower, lunch (leftover homemade chili).
- Dealt via email with some pending matters pertaining to the Communion Partners bishops and the Title IV "amici."
- Laid the foundation and erected some of the infrastructure for the fourth of five retreat addresses I will give to the priests of the Diocese of Albany in April.
- Produced a first draft of what will be a fairly major pastoral letter to the diocese on the subject of Confirmation and Reception.
- Kept an eye on the weather and road conditions all evening, trying to discern the fate of tomorrow morning's scheduled Diocesan Council meeting. Still up in the air.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
- Usual weekday routine; MP in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon over some administrative issues.
- Processed some email.
- Wrote personal notes to a couple of colleague bishops who have recently suffered "adverse life events" (for lack of a more felicitous euphemism).
- Took care of a couple of chores related to people in the ordination discernment process.
- Produced and printed working notes for this Sunday's homily at St Mark's, West Frankfort.
- Routine weekly (more or less) processing of my physical inbox.
- Lunch (on the late side) from Popeye's, eaten at home.
- Decided to work from home for the afternoon, as the furnace that heats my office was malfunctioning (and is, indeed, going to be replaced tomorrow morning, having served nobly since 1965 when the building was new!).
- Put some meat on the bones of a sermon for Lent III (March 3 at St Bartholomew's, Granite City).
- Dealt with some issues pertaining to the Title IV process in which I remain a Respondent.
- Did some "scheduled maintenance" in the area of personal organization.
- Hit the road for Bloomington at 4:15. The Lenten Wednesday routine is: Supper at 5:30, teaching from 6:15-7:15, followed by Q & A. The topic is Reading the Bible for Dummies (aka Intro to Hermeneutics). There were nearly 40 people in the room, and it was an energizing time. With luck, every session should eventually be available on video.
- Home around 8:45.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
- Weekly master task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer on an administrative matter.
- Conferred with the Archdeacon on a different administrative matter, and followed up with a phone call.
- Amplified, refined, and printed my working notes for tomorrow night's first presentation in my Lenten teaching series at St Matthew's, Bloomington, all the while processing a stream of incoming emails.
- Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
- Stopped by St John's Hospital to visit and anoint Deacon Tom Langford, who just had heart valve surgery.
- Spoke at some length by phone with a potential candidate for one of our clergy vacancies.
- Made travel arrangements (air, hotel, rental car) for the spring meeting of the Living Church Foundation board, which will meet in Dallas in April. This was not particularly onerous in itself, but a lot of time was eaten up dealing with some login credential issues on an airline website. I believe the time invested will yield future dividends.
- Spoke by phone with another potential candidate for one of our clergy vacancies.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- After dinner, spent a couple of hours fiddling with the video camera I acquired a couple of weeks ago for the purpose of recording my Lenten series talks. The learning curve had its frustrating moments, but in the end, I felt good about what was accomplished.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield--Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
It’s a joy to be with you during this transitional time in the life of the cathedral congregation, having bid farewell to one clergy leader, but not having yet welcomed the next one. And this is all happening, of course, at the beginning of Lent, which is itself a season of transition, as we move from the sober penitence of Ash Wednesday to the joy of the Resurrection, first going through the intensity of Holy Week. Yet, I’ve been around long enough, doing what I do, to know that many Christians—many active members of St Paul’s, no doubt—will find this most holy and spiritually rich of seasons to be a rather empty experience, a hollow ritual that they don’t really connect with very well, something dry and boring. As a pastor, I find this fact quite troubling.
But I’m not alone in this. Both priests and parents in the time of the ancient Hebrews—that is, the time when the Book of Deuteronomy was written—had this very same concern. They were troubled that both young people and adults were failing to make the connection between their religious observances and their own daily reality. They were not able to hear or read the story of their people, and see their own story, see themselves, in that larger narrative.
So, most likely about 700 years after Moses, give or take a century or two, the anonymous author of Deuteronomy “channels” Moses as he speaks to the people of Israel in a time of great transition in their life together. They had escaped slavery in Egypt through the parted waters of the Red Sea. For the moment, they were in a holding pattern in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, in the desert, living in tents. But they had been promised a new home in the land their ancestors had come from, and Moses was trying to get them ready to form a sustainable society and culture in a place none of them had ever seen. So he says,
When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you … you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground … and you shall go … to the priest … and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then … you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. [This refers to the patriarch Abraham.] And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
A wandering Aramean was my father ….” Our Hebrew forebears didn’t have a document like what we would call a “creed,” but, if they did, this would probably be the opening line. Unlike our creeds, it would not consists of a series of propositions, but would, rather, be a story of a people, an identity forged in the crucible of slavery, liberated through the sovereign action of God, and lived out in the Land of Promise. And this story, this narrative creed, is the background and the context in which we understand the Christian confession of faith that St Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans: “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” These words might not actually tell a story, but they certainly imply a story. They imply the story that is familiar to us, and which the season of Lent is preparing us to tell and hear once again: God came among us in the person of Jesus, and showed us the only fully human life that has ever been lived. Then, in order to share that life with us, he gave it up, bearing the full weight of human alienation and taking that burden to the cross. Dying, he destroyed our death; rising again on the third day, he restored our life. We whose identities have been forged in the crucible of slavery to sin and death have been liberated by a sovereign act of God, and in our life together as the Body of Christ we live into that freedom. This is what we call the Paschal Mystery, and it’s our story. It’s our identity. It is who we are. For our Hebrew ancestors in faith, the narrative begins, “A wandering Aramean was my father.” For us, it begins, “God raised Jesus from the dead, and now Jesus is Lord of all.” The experience of the people of Israel being saved from Pharaoh’s army by the parting of the Red Sea waters is a premonition, a foreshadowing, of our being saved from the power of sin and death by Jesus’ passion and resurrection. That’s a story that we can never tell often enough, and that we never tire of hearing.
Yet, strangely, it’s a story that we don’t know as well as we should. More and more I see the results of studies and surveys that name ignorance of scripture and ignorance of our tradition—which is to say, ignorance of our story—as a key factor in the decline of attendance and participation, particularly among young people, in the Episcopal Church, and other churches. We either never learn, or forget through neglect, the story of God’s people, the story of us. The words our liturgy week in and week out—our prayers, our hymns, our scriptures—but especially in Holy Week, presume that we are familiar with the story. But we’re not. So we don’t pay attention to the prayers, we don’t relate to the hymns, and we don’t understand the scriptures. And it’s all because we don’t know our own story.
So, can we change that this Lent? Lent is about repentance, and an assurance of God’s infinite capacity for pardon. Can we seize the moment? When we do become intimately familiar with the story of the people of God, we then know that story to be our own, the source of our identity. Our identity is in Christ. We have clothed ourselves with Christ in baptism and been marked as his own forever. His story becomes our story. So as we look at Jesus’ own example of struggling with temptation in the wilderness, we see that what got him through the ordeal was his knowledge of his identity, his knowledge of the story of his people, the people of Israel, as his own story. This is what enabled him to quote scripture in response to the Devil’s temptations. By knowing his story and then by telling his story, he was victorious over the one whose purpose it was to draw him away from the love of God.
If you were here on Ash Wednesday, you heard me say that the whole purpose of Lent is to prepare us for Easter. When we are secure in our identity, when we know who we are, when we know the story of Jesus to be our own story, keeping Lent can be both effective and efficient in achieving its purpose. On Easter, we will renew our confession of faith in Jesus. We will tell ourselves the old, old story once again. In word and in sacrament, we will break that story open and share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity. For those of us who know the story already, the re-telling of it in ceremony and song will be anything but empty or dry. In it, we will see the very glory of God. Amen.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
- Out the door at 7:30, heading for points south.
- Spoke by phone with the Rector's Warden at St Andrew's, Edwardsville , laying out the broad strokes of the transition process and the calling of the next rector after Mother Bennett's retirement in June.
- Spoke by phone at length with the Executive Director of the Living Church Foundation, on whose board I serve.
- Arrived in Marion at 10:15, with my engine running on fumes because I hadn't been paying attention to the gauge. Not the first time that's happened, and I feel fortunate not to have paid a more severe penalty than just the cost of filling my tank, which I gratefully did.
- Showed up at St James about twenty minutes ahead of our scheduled 11am meeting. We discussed near-term, mid-term, and long-term future scenarios, not only for them, but for the four Eucharistic Communities along the Highway 13 corridor (with a spur up to West Frankfort).
- About 12:20 I headed west on said Highway 13 corridor to St Andrew's, Carbondale for a 1pm meeting with the vestry. While many of the details were different, since they are in a position to call a rector, we covered much of the same territory that had traversed in Marion.
- This meeting broke up around 2:30, at which time I drove to the apartment home of Fr Marcio and Camila Junglos. Marcio is a priest of the Diocese of Southwestern Brazil who is in Carbondale for the year doing some work toward his PhD in Philosophy at SIU. I took them out to Starbuck's for some coffee and conversation. They are a delightful couple.
- Hit the road for home a little past 4pm. While en route, spole at length with a priest of the diocese of Belleville regarding some pastoral concerns, as well as with the Bishop-elect of Eau Claire, who is an old friend. While it will be a long-anticipated joy to conduct the ECW retreat next month, I am sad that I have to miss my friend's consecration as a result.
- Pulled into the driveway at home exactly 12 hours after leaving it, a very worn-out introvert.
Friday, February 15, 2013
- Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
- Processed a few emails.
- Refined and printed a working script for this Sunday's sermon.
- Left a pastoral check-in phone message with one of our clergy.
- Lunch from La Bamba (eaten at home).
- Laid out the broad strokes (and a good number of the fine ones) for the third of five retreat addresses I will deliver to the priests of the Diocese of Albany in April.
- Laid preliminary plans for a diocesan clergy day on June 1.
- Friday prayer--time spent with various musical versions of the text Stabat mater dolorosa, on You Tube.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
- Usual Thursday morning weight and treadmill workout.
- Processed a handful of emails at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Drove to Normal to bless the room newly-designated as a chapel at Christ the King, for use by both the pre-school and the church. Spoke by phone on the way with one of our priests over a sensitive pastoral matter in the parish.
- Presided at the chapel blessing, followed by a presentation by some of the pre-school kids and a tour of their classroom while in session. This is a wonderful ministry, and I could not be more pleased that we have something like this in the diocese.
- Lunch with Fr Desmond and some of the lay leaders of Christ the King--at an Indian buffet, or course!
- Back in the office at 2pm. Caught up on some emails.
- Tended to some administrivia.
- Took a phone call from another priest over yet another pastoral situation.
- Took a phone call from a deployment officer in another diocese regarding a priest who is canonically resident in Springfield.
- Consulted with the Archdeacon at some length over a couple of strategic and administrative issues.
- Produced a first draft of a sermon for Lent II (24 February at St Mark's, West Frankfort).
- Worked on my still-evolving "aspirational" liturgical customary for the diocese.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
- Task organizing and some email processing at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Took care of last-minute physical preparation for the liturgies of the day in the cathedral (making sure the right books are in the right place and marked the right way, thinking through the choreography).
- Got to work producing a first draft of this Sunday's sermon (again at the cathedral).
- Presided and preached at the 12:15pm Ash Wednesday liturgy.
- Finished writing the sermon I had been working on before Mass.
- Took care of banking errand on foot (need to rack up the steps on the pedometer). Twisted my ankle on the way back to the office. It seems like a relatively minor injury.
- Placed an order by phone for some starched cotton clergy collars from J. Wippel.
- Had a conversation with the Archdeacon over some short-term clergy deployment issues. Wrote a followup email.
- Took a phone call from one of our priests regarding some transition issues.
- Did the rough planning for the first session of my Lenten teaching series at St Matthew's, Bloomington.
- Took a phone call from a local reporter asking my thoughts on the "Ashes to Go" phenomenon.
- Surveyed and made some preliminary notes on the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
- Drove home for some brief down time before grabbing Brenda and heading back to the cathedral for the evening liturgy.
- Presided and preached at the evening Mass. Got to sing "Just as I am", which is one of my personal Ash Wednesday standbys.
- Met, separately, with two cathedral members after the service over some pastoral concerns.
St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield
Ash Wednesday is a good time to get a few things straight. First, what are we here for, anyway? It’s not like most of us don’t have other things we would ordinarily be doing at this time on a Wednesday. Why did we break our routines and come to church?
To answer such questions, we need to look away from them first. We need to look beyond Ash Wednesday, beyond Lent, and look at Holy Week and Easter. Any view of Lent that doesn’t see Holy Week and Easter as the end point, as the direction toward which all our activities are ordered, does not see Lent clearly. And then we need to look behind the actual annual observance of Holy Week and Easter, and see the underlying realities that energize their observance.
Those underlying realities can be summarized in four one-syllable words: We sin—God saves. Or, to expand on that just a little: We all have a powerful tendency to rebel against the authority of our Creator, which leads naturally to an eternity of desolation and the ultimate destruction of our very humanity. But our Creator has a powerful tendency to love us and be in a friendly relationship with us, which leads naturally to forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal joy in His presence. God took decisive action toward that more desirable alternative when he entered human history as the man named Jesus. As Jesus died and rose from the dead, he laid the foundation for our liberation from the power of sin and death. That dying and rising, then, is an event worth celebrating with great care and great solemnity.
Part of celebrating, of course, is preparing. You can’t have a party without making arrangements for the food, inviting the guests, and cleaning house. That’s where Lent comes in. It’s an opportunity to prepare for the solemn observances of the last three days of March, as they fall this year, and the first day of April—observances that are physically demanding, emotionally demanding, and spiritually demanding.
And a necessary part of preparing to remember the dying and rising of Christ is to take inventory of our own unique contribution to the need for him to come among us in the first place. Without our sinfulness, there would have been no need for the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. You and I put him on the cross,
as surely as if we were the Roman soldier applying hammer to nail. We each have a very personal stake in what went on there, because Jesus doesn’t just save “mankind” in the abstract, he saves your individual sinful human soul, and mine.
Now, in order for that salvation to happen, we need to cooperate with God. He makes all the arrangements, performs the surgery, and pays the bill Himself. But we still need to present ourselves at the appointed place and time, sign the consent forms, and lie down on the gurney. Part of the required cooperation is for us to be truthful, and acknowledge the specific ways we have fallen short of the mark in our calling to glorify God in all that we say, do, and think.
That’s what Ash Wednesday is about. Ash Wednesday gives us an opportunity to take a good look at ourselves, individually and corporately, lay it all out on the table,
own up to it, and take responsibility. The surgery can’t begin until we agree with the physician about where the problems are and authorize Him to start wielding a scalpel.
So that’s our work tonight, and for the coming weeks of Lent. It’s inventory season.
Celebration of the paschal mystery in Holy Week and Easter must be preceded by repentance. And repentance must be preceded by confession. And confession must be preceded by self-examination. That’s the front end of the process. All the outward Lenten disciplines you can think of will be of little or no avail unless they help along the process of self-examination and confession and repentance, which will all lead, in due time, to celebration.
As your Chief Pastor, please know that I stand ready to assist you personally with this important work. You only need ask. I’m sure I speak as well for Father Roderick, whose arrival we still await, and Father Franklin too. May we be diligent in sowing the seeds during Lent that will yield an abundant harvest on Easter.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
- Weekly master task planning and a head start of a considerable stack of emails to process while still at home.
- Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry matters.
- Attended and participated in a meeting of the diocesan Finance Department. This is when the current year's budget that was adopted at Synod is tweaked to reflect actual amounts (rather than estimated amounts) pledged by the parishes. Next week Council wil be asked to officially amend the budget. Happens every year.
- Returned to cleaning up my inbox, both what was left from before and messages that arrived during my meeting.
- Lunch at home, from China 1.
- Produced and printed a working script of my homily for Ash Wednesday (St Paul's Cathedral).
- Processed a considerable stack in my physical inbox--work that invariably generates emails, phone calls, additional tasks to plan, and consultations with others in the office. It took me the rest of the afternoon.
- Evening Prayer in the office.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Glorious worship and splendid music at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign, along with four confirmations (all adults). There is a sense of joyful expectation in that community as they await the arrival of a new rector (whose name has to be kept confidential for a few days until he informs his current parish) on May 1.
Dealt with a lot of rain both coming and going, so I was grateful for the new tires ... and warm enough temperatures to keep in rain and not that other stuff.
Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign--Luke 9:28-36
It’s impossible to know how future historians will characterize the era in which we live—the way we now talk about the Stone Age and the Iron Age and the Bronze Age and the Industrial Age. I’ve heard Information Age kicked around, but who knows whether that will stick. I’m kind of a geezer, on the back end of the technology learning curve. But even I have reached the point where if I have a question about most anything—even trying to find, say, a chapter and verse citation for a scriptural phrase that sticks in my mind—I will sooner type my question into an internet search engine than walk across the room and pull a book off the shelf. I usually get better information and get it in less time.
You might not immediately think this, but the Information Age has some very concrete religious implications. Religion, generically speaking, is about ultimate worth, ultimate value, ultimate meaning. Whatever or whomever commands our ultimate attention and ultimate loyalty—that thing or person becomes “God” for us. Now it used to be that if you were born in, say, Japan, your notion of “God” would be along the lines of Shintoism or Buddhism. If you were born in the Arabian Peninsula, your “object of ultimate loyalty” would be the God of Islam—Allah. And if you were born in Europe or North America, most likely you would grow up accepting the notion of God as it is taught by Christianity.
But the Information Age has changed all that. It has expanded the marketplace and increased competition between the various candidates for “God.” The culture into which we are born doesn’t automatically just carry us along anymore. Scout around the internet long enough and you can find lots of stories of blond, blue-eyed Americans and Europeans converting to Islam. And in the heart of Buddhist territory, you can find thriving communities of Christians across Asia. This is the era of options, choices, alternatives. And it isn’t just traditional religion that can command our ultimate commitment anymore. There is an array of “non-religious gods” we can pick from, ranging from wealth to health and fitness to sports to civic and political involvement to whatever our job is to family ties to…just about anything. It’s all rather overwhelming.
In the midst of information overload, then, sometimes we need a clarifying experience, something to cut through all the “noise.” This is what Jesus thought would be helpful to the inner core of the inner core of his disciples—Peter, James, and John. He says to them one day, “Guys, take a walk with me,” and then leads them up a mountain. When they get to the top, Jesus starts to glow. His face, his hands, his clothes, everything about him became…luminescent. And then he had company; Moses and Elijah, two of the arch-heroes of Israel’s past, were with him carrying on a conversation about what was going to happen to Jesus later, when he got to Jerusalem. Then they were all enveloped in a cloud, and the disciples heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Then, when the cloud was gone, so were Moses and Elijah, and it was just the four of them once again, and Jesus was looking like his old self.
This event has something to say, I think, about our Information Age menu of potential gods. But before we can make that connection, we’ve got to understand the symbolic significance of Moses and Elijah for Peter and James and John, who were, of course, devout, observant Jews. Jewish religion is based on two pillars: First, there’s the Torah, Law. The Torah was given to the people of Israel by God at the time they escaped from Egypt. It was meant to regulate their life when they settled in the Promised Land. Then there are the Prophets—a long line of individuals whom God raised up to speak his word to Israel at various times in their history. Now the Law, of course, came through Moses. And Elijah is considered the greatest of the Prophets. So when the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, they were mightily moved. They wanted to immediately erect three monuments to this occasion. To think that Jesus, their everyday friend and traveling companion, would be worthy to share a stage with Moses and Elijah—wow, that was big! Really big!
But wait. They’re not seeing the whole picture. It’s actually even bigger than they imagined. It’s Jesus who’s doing the shining. Moses and Elijah are all lit up, to be sure, but it’s light that is reflected from Jesus. He’s not sharing a stage with them; they’re sharing a stage with him. They’re glowing, but it’s his light they’re glowing with. And just in case there’s any doubt, the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” And then Jesus is found alone. Anyone want to buy a clue?
Peter and James and John needed to learn the utter uniqueness of Jesus. They needed to learn that what was going to happen to him a few weeks later in Jerusalem was the culmination of and transcended anything that Moses and Elijah stood for. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the unique Son of God and Savior of the world.
Now this is quite a scandal, actually. Speaking of competing gods, one of the hallmarks of the time we live in is that the whole idea of objective truth is under attack. So if you make a claim about Ultimate Reality and say “This is what I believe,” that’s fine, but if you say, “This is what is, true for everybody whether they believe it or not,” that’s considered rude and inconsiderate. You’re “forcing” your beliefs on somebody else. So when Christians say that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the unique Son of God and Savior of the world, many people consider that an offensive statement. Yet, that is what we say.
But it’s also a truth we need to learn and make our own as well. For the three disciples on the mountaintop, Moses and Elijah represented the twin pillars of their religious convictions, the lens through which they viewed the world. So…who are “Moses” and “Elijah” to us? What or who potentially distracts us from seeing that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the one from who the light shines, the one who alone commands our ultimate attention, affection, and loyalty? Certainly the false gods that we have named might qualify for these roles—wealth, ambition, amusement, sexual fulfillment, and so on. But, ironically, even the tepid, lukewarm, half-hearted Christianity that many baptized Christians practice can compete with the genuine article—Christian faith itself, if it’s watered down, can become a false god—because, let’s face it, it’s not very demanding and doesn’t require very much of us. But Christianity that is just “one more thing” rather than “the very thing” inoculates us against the kind of faith that actually makes a difference in our lives. If we don’t end up looking at “Jesus only,” with Moses and Elijah faded from the scene, we’re on the path to nowhere.
Even nearly six years after the fact, I’m still slightly in mourning over the cancellation of the TV show The West Wing. It fed my inner political junkie that never has been fully unleashed. In the final season, Donna, one of the established characters since the first season, applies to work on the campaign of a presidential nominee. The problem is, she recently worked for one of that nominee’s rivals in the same party, and in that capacity said some uncomplimentary things about the man whose campaign she now wants to work in. Even though she also used to work for Josh, who’s now the campaign manger, he doesn’t want to hire her, because he still holds a grudge. Donna pleads, “He was the front-runner. I was just doing my job.” But the fact is, she bet on the wrong horse, and now there was a price to be paid for that.
There are lots of good and attractive horses in the race competing for our ultimate affection, our ultimate loyalty. But hedging our bets will prove to be a losing strategy, as there is only one winner. The time to decide is now. What God do we worship? Do we worship the god of success and wealth? The god of good looks and high fashion? The God of friends and family? The god of academic respectability? The god of fitting in and getting along? Do we worship several gods? Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the unique Son of God and Savior of the world. Transfiguration Sunday is a chance to acknowledge and own that scandalous truth. Alleluia and Amen.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Between 9:30am and 4pm I was in the diocesan office either preparing for, participating in, or debriefing from the meeting of the Commission on Ministry. Six potential ordinands, at various stages of the process, were interviewed. All are, I believe, each in a unique way, quite promising.
Friday, February 8, 2013
- Usual routine at home. Then off to the Secretary of State's driver services facility (known in some states as DMV) to atone for my carelessness and get a duplicate of the registation renewal and license plate sticker that were paid for but lost. For a price, of course.
- Took a phone call from a UTO staffer responding to my cries for help from last week when I was a victim of their buggy website for submitting grant applications. It took me about 30 minutes to reconstruct the long online application, but this time it went through. Application submitted (on behalf of the Diocese of Tabora).
- Wrote a note of thanks (via email) to Bishop Braxton of the (Roman Catholic) Diocese of Belleville for the time he spent with us Wednesday morning at the end of our clergy retreat. At his request, I also emailed a photo of the two of us together to his administrator.
- Processed a load of emails.
- Lunch at home.
- The afternoon was an exercise in patience. When I got my car serviced yesterday I was told that the right rear tire has a slow but irreparable leak. Since I already have 49,000 miles on them, I thought I would get two new ones and try to squeeze another 5-10K miles out of the others. So I "stopped by" a tire store near where we live, thinking I could get this done and still make it back into the office for an honest afternoon's worth of work. It was not to be. Four tires and a wheel alignment later, I got back to the office at nearly 5pm. I was not happy.
- Within an hour back at my desk, I flesh out an already-begun rough version of a sermon for Ash Wednesday, and sketched the second of five address for the priests retreat in the Diocese of Albany in April. Evening Prayer in the office.
- Had dinner with Brenda and three Nashotah House seminarians who are in town to meet with our Commission on Ministry tomorrow. Due to the crazy circumstances in the church these days, we are adopting them midstream.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
- Disruptions to the routine of my life have lately disrupted my exercise routine, so it was good to have my usual Thursday morning workout.
- Task planning and Morning Prayer at home. Then to Green Hyundai for routine service on the YFNBmobile (Brenda followed me and shuttled me to the office).
- Debriefed with the Archdeacon on various matters, as is our custom when one or both of us have been out of the office for a while.
- Made a pastoral care phone call to one of our clergy.
- Processed some emails.
- Had Sue take me back to the Hyundai dealer to get my car. I have to go tire shopping now, as one of the tires has a slow leak that cannot be repaired. It was getting to be about time anyway.
- Scheduled meeting wearing my Nashotah House board chairman hat with an interested stakeholder (son of a longtime former professor and bishop).
- Lunch at home.
- Prepared and printed a working script for this Sunday's homily (St John the Divine, Champaign).
- Spoke by phone with the rector-elect of St John the Divine, Champaign. (Can't reveal his identity yet for a few more days, as he needs to break the news to his current parish.)
- Wrote a letter to one of our parishes whose rector has requested something from me regarding the diocesan mission strategy to be used in connection with a Lenten stewardship campaign.
- Spoke by phone with a representative of the UTO regarding the technical difficulties I have been having trying to submit a grant application.
- Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
This was the closing morning of our annual clergy retreat. We broke silence after Morning Prayer. The Wednesday morning of retreat is usually given to forum.discussion over sundry matters. This year the highlight was a visit from the Most Revd Edward Braxton, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville. Bishop Braxton is a learned and erudite man with broad ecumenical experience and a fine working knowledge of the Anglican tradition and its luminaries. We enjoyed an hour of lively and irenic give-and-take with him.
After Mass and lunch, we packed up and and I transported our retreated conductor, Fr Brandon Filbert, to the airport in St Louis. En route hom from Springfield I participated in a conference call with the other amici bishops over evolving developments in our quest for a canonical accord in the Title IV action that has been brought against us.
In the evening, Brenda and I went out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. Nick & Nino's has to have the finest steaks in Springfield.
Monday, February 4, 2013
Ran a few personal errands in the early and mid morning, then headed south to the airport in St Louis to meet Fr Brandon Filbert, the conductor for our clergy pre-Lenten retreat. After another errand in St Louis (seeking a luna for a monstrance, if you know what either of those terms mean) we headed across the river to Belleville and Kings' House Retreat Center, venue for the retreat. Now settled in an enjoying Fr Brandon's ministry.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Trinity, Lincoln--Luke 4:21-32
People want God’s blessing. We want God’s blessing on our personal lives: we want to be set free from our fears and anxieties and besetting sins. We want to be delivered from illness and poverty and hostility. We want God’s blessing on our life together in the diocese and in our parish communities: we want full pews, top-notch music programs, dynamic ministries with children and youth, abundant financial resources, and substantial outreach, materially and spiritually, to the needs of the community around us. We want vestry meetings that are productive, yet harmonious and short. We want to be flooded with capable and emotionally healthy volunteers. We want God’s blessing on the Episcopal Church nationally and on the worldwide Anglican Communion: we want the blessing of concord and unity of purpose in the bonds of peace. We want to be proud, not cringe, every time the Episcopal Church is mentioned in the secular media.
We know that God is indeed in the blessing business. We know from the witness of scripture that God blesses individuals and families and organizations and institutions and causes and movements. And we know that God has blessed us in the past. Everyone here today has been blessed with the gift of life, and virtually everyone with much, much more than that. Trinity has been spectacularly blessed in the past, and this beautiful building we are worshipping in is ample testimony to that blessing. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have been richly blessed in the past. Episcopalians have always been over-represented in the ranks of our elected and appointed leaders. The Anglican expression of Christianity has helped millions of people grow in their knowledge and love of Christ and come to maturity in holiness and virtue. Yes, God has blessed us in the past, and we can infer from that that he is quite capable of blessing us that much and more in the present and in the future. In other words, God has an excellent “track record,” which encourages us to rely on past performance as an indicator of future results.
Yet, in the midst of this, we remain hungry and thirsty for God’s blessing—so much so that we are willing to stop a stranger on the street on the chance that he might be able to dispense some of this blessing. We feel ourselves to be in a drought, in a famine, of God’s blessing. We feel heavily burdened by the chores of living and dying, of loving and learning, of struggling and finding rest. Even Christians abuse their children, commit adultery, and get divorced; Christian households live on credit and file for bankruptcy, Christians become alcoholics and drug addicts. We wonder: where is this God who blesses?
In many of our parishes—Trinity included, I’m sure—we look wistfully back on the golden age of the ‘40s and ‘50s, when attendance was double and triple what it is now, and Sunday school and youth groups were bursting at the seams, many of our parishes could afford to keep two full-time priests on the paid staff. And not too long ago, it looked like Anglicanism was the stable operating table on which the fragmented body of Christ could be stitched back together. We were both catholic and reformed, and thought we could model to other churches the way to successfully maintain unity in diversity. More recently, we’ve found out that we’re not as good at that as we thought, and we haven’t even been able to maintain visible unity among ourselves, let alone re-unite with others. We worship a God who can bless, has blessed, and, according to his promise, will bless. But we feel a dearth of that blessing in the present.
The residents of the ancient village of Nazareth in Galilee also craved God’s blessing.
And, for a while there, it looked like they were going to get what they craved, in spades. One of their local boys had made good. He was already slightly famous as a healer and a teacher in the towns and villages of the area, and every indication was that his notoriety was only going to increase, both in scope and scale. Any status or prestige that he might acquire, of course, would only reflect favorably on his hometown. He would be known not simply as Jesus, but Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe the town could finally shed its reputation as a backwater breeding ground for yahoos. With any luck, there would be a thriving tourist industry to jump-start the local economy: “Come see where Jesus lived. Come see where Jesus went to school.”
But it was not to be. Nazareth is, in effect, disowned by its most famous resident.
He was subtle about it—with cryptic remarks about impressive miracles that God accomplished in Old Testament times outside the boundaries and power structures of his own chosen nation of Israel—Jesus was subtle about his rejection of Nazareth, but his point was not lost on the Nazarenes. In fact, they’re so disturbed that they gang up on him and try—unsuccessfully, of course—to kill him. And Jesus simply went … elsewhere.
In Jesus’s case, “elsewhere” meant the nearby village of Capernaum (and I’ve been to both places, and I can see why Jesus picked Capernaum). But as a metaphor, as the “other” place where God’s blessing happens, while it’s not happening where we are, “elsewhere” has a rich and continuing meaning and significance. In the century before last, the Episcopal Church grew along with the American frontier. It is significant, I think, that the impetus to legally incorporate the church in this country came from a perceived need to improve our missionary outreach. Hence, the name chosen for incorporation was the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society,” and every member of the Episcopal Church was, and still is, a constituent member of a missionary society! Fifty years ago, a steady 2% of the American population was Episcopalian. Now that figure is way less than 1% and shrinking. In a land where the majority of the founders were Anglican, we are now outnumbered by sub-Christian groups like the Mormons and non-Christian groups like Muslims. Not a good record for a missionary society!
Yet, God still blesses Anglican Christianity—he just does it “elsewhere.” Growth in many of the third world Anglican churches in Africa and Asia is explosive. I spent some time with a Tanzanian bishop last spring. His major anxiety is how to manage the numerical growth in his diocese. He complains, “My people just won’t stop evangelizing, and I can’t train and ordain clergy fast enough to pastor them!” God’s blessing in not absent—it’s just elsewhere!
Now, the great temptation for us “Nazarenes” who hunger and thirst after God’s blessing, and see that blessing being poured out in Capernaum and “elsewhere,”—well the biggest temptation might be to go “elsewhere,” so maybe I’m talking about the second biggest temptation—the second biggest temptation is to imitate “elsewhere.” If the folks on the next fairway are playing with navy blue golf balls and scoring a birdie on every hole, maybe we ought to start using navy blue golf balls. If the church down the street has a rodeo at every service, and the church around the corner has stand-up comedy instead of a traditional sermon, and both churches are packing them in, then maybe we should look for the best deal on cattle and comics.
Tempting, but I don’t think so. To simply imitate some other church’s style in worship or music or theology or piety misses the point. It assumes that these are the things that God is blessing, when, in fact, what God is blessing is not their technique, but their openness to God’s word, their docility and availability to God’s Spirit, their welcoming attitude toward God’s presence and activity in their midst, their willingness to let the Spirit of the Lord lead them, even if it means changing routines and patterns that have become familiar and comfortable. It’s the attitude of those Capernaumites, not their techniques, that we blessing-starved Nazarenes should be imitating.
Put simply: God’s blessing, God’s power, operates where God’s word and Spirit are welcomed. If God blesses us—if God blesses us as individuals with health and prosperity, if God blesses Trinity parish and the Diocese of Springfield with vitality and growth, if God blesses the Episcopal Church with the grace to recover its soul and sense of godly direction—such blessing will be the result, first, of God’s sovereign choice, and, second, of our willingness to be formed according to his purposes. Just as a plane cannot land where no runway has been prepared, God’s blessing cannot land on an individual or parish or institution whose heart has not been prepared—softened to the loving advances of the Holy Spirit, yielded wholly to God’s will, willing to be challenged and renewed.
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Renew the face of the earth. Renew the heart of your church. Renew the hearts of your people.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
It was a joy to preside at the Celebration of a New Ministry for Fr Ian Wetmore as Vicar of St Michael's, O'Fallon. Bishop Ed Salmon acquitted himself admirably as homilist and the feast of our Lord's Presentation in the Temple was duly observed. The people of St Michael's had a long wait (thanks to Homeland Security's suspicion of Canadians), but St Michael's is already prospering under Fr Ian's leadership.
Friday, February 1, 2013
- Consulted with the Administrator and Archdeacon on sundry matters of minutia.
- Wrote a Letter to the Editor of the State Journal-Register correcting an inaccurate impression left by a guest editorialist in Wednesday's edition regarding the Episcopal Church and same-sex marriage.
- Kept a phone appointment with a national church staffer who is trying to gather information and build networks for greater cooperation and synergy between dioceses in the pursuit of the first of the Five Marks of Mission.
- Reviewed and revised drafts of bulletins for Ash Wednesday and Lent I at the cathedral, where I will be preaching and celebrating in the short interim between the retirement of Dean Brodie and the arrival of Fr Keith Roderick to become Provost.
- Lunch at home.
- Shopped for and purchased a video camera and accoutrements that I anticipate being deployed to record teaching events that unofficial diocesan videographer cannot attend. The Lenten series at St Matthew's, Bloomington will be the trial run for this equipment.
- In my ongoing quest for a successful submission of a UTO grant application on behalf of our companion diocese of Tabora, I called the person listed on their website. All she could do was take down my contact information and pass it on to someone in tech support. I'm still waiting.
- Spoke by phone with a staff member in another diocese regarding a deployment issue.
- Focused on the first of five retreat addresses that I will deliver to the priests of the Diocese of Albany in April, emerging with a satisfyingly roughed-in sketch,
- Assaulted the learning curve of the newly-acquired video equipment. Made good progress.
- Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.
- Spoke with a priest of the diocese over a pastoral issue.
- Evening Prayer for the Eve of the Presentation, in the office.